“We need to say sorry for what we South Africans did in 2008,” said an audience member at a film screening of Man On Ground, hosted by the Scalabrini Centre on 10 April 2013 at the centre’s hall.
The screening, part of a national roadshow, was organized by the IOM, The Goethe Institute and OSISA as part of an exhibition called PROJECT: TELL THEM WE ARE FROM HERE which opens in Jo’burg on 10 May 2013 before touring in other parts of the country. Members of communities from Delft and Philippi, communities affected by xenophobia, were bussed in to watch the film and partake in the discussion thereafter.
Director Omotoso kicked off the post-screening discussion by stating that the idea for the film came when he read about and saw the horrific images of a burning Ernesto Nhamuave, a Mozambican who was doused with petrol and burnt to death in Johannesburg’s East Rand during the 2008 xenophobia attacks. “I wanted to explore the identities of the figures behind the headlines. It was about taking a step further than the sensational news reports and going much deeper in finding out who these victims are, where they came from, who their families are, the story of their lives up to that point where they meet their fate as victims of this atrocious crime against humanity.” He added that to him making the film was also about making a statement as an arts activist – an artist who uses his art not just for commercial or critical acclaim but to spread a message to society.
Somali businessman Mohammed Al-Tariq, who owns a tuck-shop business and resides in Philippi, made the point that the reason that he and his fellow countrymen chose to live in the affected areas was that the lifestyle was affordable as compared to living in the city. He mentioned that since arriving in the country in 2006 he had lost a friend as a result of a xenophobic attack, and another was shot seven times but survived in 2011.
James Mphikeleli, a community leader in Delft, pointed out that it was not only necessary but crucial for films such as Man On Ground to be shown on a much larger scale. “It is a great opportunity for us as a community to be shown this film because we have learned a lot from it, and will help spread its message. It would also be good if films such as this one could be shown on a wider platform such as the SABC, because it will reach a much bigger audience and make a larger impact.”
In response, Akin pointed out that the film had already been screened on Mzantsi Magic, a local satellite television station which forms part of the DSTV stable. He added that discussions were taking place with the SABC to screen the film on one of their channels.
Rev. Thami Mehana of the AME church in Delft mentioned that he was engaged in prison ministry, and one of the facts he realised when ministering to inmates incarcerated for crimes linked to xenophobia is that the common reason for committing the crimes was that they were caught up in “toyi-toyi euphoria”. They state that they were not fully aware of what they were doing at the time due to the hysteria surrounding them. “Most are remorseful for their actions and after approaching me, have taken the difficult step of seeking forgiveness from the victims’ families” he said. “There are some who continue to justify their actions based on their deeply-held prejudices against foreigners.”
Further discussion centered around issues of community support for anti-xenophobic initiatives and the integration of immigrants into local communities where they reside.
The session closed off with an official from IOM highlighting the fact that the film’s screening was one of a number of initiatives that the organisation was currently engaged in to redress the impact of xenophobia across communities nationwide. “As IOM, together with other partners, we would like to ensure that we fight and defeat this social disease just like we fought and triumphed over racial discrimination in this country.”