The role of civil society organisation in combating xenophobia: a case study of the Africa Solidarity Network (ASONET)
Ndebele, Zinhle Khanyisile.
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Xenophobia is fed by stereotypes and prejudice towards the ‘out-group’ that is not understood by the ‘in-group’. During two xenophobic waves (2008 and 2015) in South Africa civil society organisations instantly responded to the violence and aided the groups affected. However, since hostility towards African foreign nationals is a reoccurring issue, they were successful responding but not providing long term solutions to the problem. With this in mind the study sought to understand the role of civil society organisations in combating xenophobia. It investigates this through the case study of the Africa Solidarity Network (ASONET) which is a civil society organisation that was established in 2014 by various African nationals who believed migrants were underrepresented in South Africa and so they became a voice for refugees and asylum seekers. This study adopted a qualitative approach. The sample of the study consisted of six ASONET members from Congo, Zimbabwe and Rwanda, who were purposely selected. As a data collection tool three methods of data collection were used namely: focus group interviews with ASONET members, observation and field notes during the attendance of two community dialogues held by ASONET and document analysis that entailed analysing past community dialogue reports of the organisation. The research for this study was guided by the ‘othering’ and the ‘political opportunities’ theories. The study revealed ASONET is a non-profit organisation committed to building a better united society for African people in South Africa. The findings revealed the organisation uses activities such as people to people solidarity, community dialogues, gender education, lobbying and advocacy amongst others to combat xenophobia. However, for the purpose of this research, the focus was on the use of community dialogues to achieve social cohesion and advocacy to connect people to policymakers. The organisation uses community dialogues to educate both foreign nationals and South Africans about their differences and break down misperceptions that lead to xenophobia. Advocating for policy change is a more challenging aspect of the organisation’s work, because it entails dealing with the state including the Department of Home Affairs to encourage policies that are inclusive to foreigners. Furthermore, the study findings revealed that civil society has a role to play in addressing the triggers of xenophobia and supporting the migrant communities but the state has a more fundamental role to play. ASONET engages in dialogues with not only the community but all levels of government to ensure the African migrant community is protected, however it was concluded that no lasting solutions have been achieved by the organisation on how to influence policy. Based on the study findings, this study concludes with a proposition of a number of recommendations for civil society organisations and the government on how to find sustainable solutions to combating xenophobia. To this end, a coherent and transparent plan on how to achieve and measure social cohesion and integrate the marginalised into local communities is needed by both the government and ASONET, as this would also attract funding. The process of policy making should be inclusive to civil society organisations as this would ensure the rights of foreigners are protected and accountability by government structures.