Johannesburg – Thousands of people marched in the streets of Johannesburg on Thursday to show South Africans and the world that the recent xenophobic attacks were not an indicator of the state of the country.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura told the crowd, who marched from Pieter Roos Park in Hillbrow to Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, that even if the attacks had ended, the campaign against xenophobia needed to continue.
“It doesn’t matter if you are yellow or blue, we are all united against xenophobia,” he told the marchers from a stage at the square.
The multi-cultural and multi-coloured crowd held aloft banners, posters and placards to protest against attacks on foreign nationals in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng that left at least seven people dead and thousands displaced.
During a similar march in Durban last Thursday, police clashed with a group of people trying to disrupt the event.
Makhura said a division would be established in the office of the premier to deal with migrant matters. Africa Day, to be celebrated on May 25, would be unique this year.
“We are going to have the most beautiful African music festival on the 25th of May. We are going to have an African carnival,” he told the crowd.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was on stage as well. Supporting herself on a crutch, she did not address the crowd.
‘You made history today’
Expelled Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi told the crowd that they needed to tell people around the world that what they saw of the attacks on television was not what South Africa was like.
“We will not allow a tiny minority of murderers and xenophobics to paint our country [this way]. We are here again once more to say: ‘We know who our enemies are – they are not our brothers and sisters in the continent’.”
He said the enemy was unemployment and unfair employers. Vavi thanked Makhura, Johannesburg Mayor Parks Tau and “everybody who worked hard to ensure today was a success”.
“All of you… made history today. History is never made by the generals, it is made by the masses of people.”
Archbishop Thabo Makgoba echoed calls for peace.
“We want to say, ‘enough is enough’… This is not Ubuntu. We are all God’s people. Not only those from Africa, but all migrants are God’s people. We need to take responsibility… Especially those on social media who fan the flames of violence.”
‘Have mercy on us’
Bishop Paul Verryn opened proceedings with a moment of silence. A wave of “shhhs” went through the crowd as it fell quiet.
“Allah, Yahweh, the Great One, God Almighty have mercy on us,” Verryn said.
“In a country that is almost completely religious, what has been happening… has nothing to do with religion. We say very clearly ‘no’ in the name of our gods against violence against foreign nationals.”
The streets of Hillbrow echoed with songs and stamping feet as the marchers made their way to the square.
People gathered on balconies, rooftops and outside their shops to watch the crowd. One woman stood on the burnt remains of her balcony, on the third storey of a building, clutching a baby in one hand and a cellphone in the other to document the event.
People hung off the balcony of Ethiopian restaurant, Bersufkad, cheering. Beaming, they shouted in Amharic to their friends to take pictures of themselves and some rushed towards the march shouting “join, join, join”.
Adults and children waved Ethiopian flags out of the old Medical Building opposite the Joburg Mall. The Support Marikana Campaign group stopped and danced with some of the Ethiopian men.
‘We are here to grow love’
Anele Dunga, who marched shirtless with chains wrapped around himself, said he wanted everybody to break free from the chains of xenophobia.
“Hopefully, at the end of the day we will understand it and break away from it,” said Dunga, a researcher from the SA Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights.
Some of the marchers had flags from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe draped over their shoulders.
A large group of Chinese people sang the South African national anthem over and over again as they walked down Jeppe Street. One Zimbabwean man turned his anti-xenophobia poster into a long pointy hat and jogged down the road.
School girls sang in high, shrill voices as they shuffled along, holding each other’s waists.
Lucas Marie, 65, from Ivory Park, said he joined the march because he wanted the world to see what South Africa was capable of.
“We are here to grow love, not to sow death,” he said.