Chisom Jenniffer Okoye.
Although the dark cloud that hovers over Parktown Boys’ High School continues to darken by the day, one thing that stood out strongly for me during these trying days since the loss of Enock Mpianzi is the overwhelming sense of support the Mpianzi family is receiving from South Africans who were heartbroken by his death.
Since the story broke last week, updates of the tragedy have only added fuel to an already raging fire as many people express their anger towards the school for its alleged negligence while, in the same breath, offer condolences and assistance to the family, reportedly refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While the incident dominates conversation in many homes, with many people talking about the issue and expressing their anger, I have also heard arguments from people who have raised their eyebrows as they observe the attention the matter is receiving.
Some people say that although the drowning was indeed a tragedy, there have been many issues within the country that were even more disastrous, including the Life Esidemini incident that did not evoke this much outrage because it only involved black people (both victims and perpetrators).
They go on to say that several people jumping on this bandwagon are only after the racism element: a black boy in a predominantly white school dying due to alleged gross negligence by white teachers and a white principal.
In fact, the Economic Freedom Fighters, which has offered to provide the family with a legal team, is being accused of using this agenda to foster political mileage.
This is despite the fact that its leader, Julius Malema, has always supported a borderless African continent, despite the criticism he receives.
Of course, one cannot assume that this tragedy would end xenophobia.
In fact, attacks against foreigners took place in Diepsloot yesterday, when unconfirmed claims that foreign nationals had killed two locals and a police officer led to widespread violent protests and residents demanding that they be kicked out of the community.
Without being the devil’s advocate, I still foresee these incidents continuing.
“They are different issues,” someone I spoke to insisted.
“People who engage in xenophobic attacks are speaking out about foreigners stealing jobs and economic opportunities whereas this [Parktown Boys’ High School] incident is a human tragedy and people are supporting them because it is an unfortunate incident that should not have happened. It could have happened to anyone.”
To me, the fact that their status as refugees is not the main focus and that people are clamouring to help the family and bring the school to book brings along with it hope for the future for foreign nationals – that they are human first and their cries will be heard.
I believe this is an unconscious step forward for South Africa and if we continue on this path of leaving our prejudices and discrimination (including xenophobic sentiments and attitudes) at the door and work towards accepting and helping each other on the basis of being human beings, we will be in a better place as a country.
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