Holocaust experts in South Africa have sounded the alarm over similarities between the country’s rise in xenophobic sentiment and genocides throughout history.
“There is a very natural connection between learning about the Holocaust and thinking about it about our own country’s past and confronting this epidemic in our country right now, which is xenophobia,” said Claudia Blythe, Education Manager at the Durban Holocaust and Genocide Centre.
Blythe spoke to TimesLIVE at the Mandela Capture Site , Howick , just outside Pietermaritzburg, where the center ran a series of workshops for various schools in the area.
As Holocaust education was included in the history curriculum for grades 9 and 11, the Holocaust and Genocide Center, their museum experience at three Midlands high schools: Howick High, Mconjwana High and Sibongumbovu Combined School.
The focus of the Workshops lies on how history is full of tales of careless messaging d and festering and dangerous beliefs where one group of people assumes superiority over another, leading to dire consequences that leave lifelong scars in Germany then the rest of Europe – until on the 1994 Rwanda war between the Tutsis and Hutus and SA’s own apartheid.
The Holocaust and Genocide Center said its message was clear: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeating it.”
“Most of the time, we start with prejudice or how we feel about people who are different from us. Then there is usually some form of discrimination against a group of people, if enough people hold that prejudice. This discrimination can lead to violence against this group of people because they are vulnerable,” Blythe said.
Peter Houston, also an education manager at the center, said a common thread running through all of these separate atrocities is “Othering “. ” – a pattern of exclusion and marginalization based on identities that differ from the norm.
„It happens every day – you are in this group and I am in this group. It’s the way life was collected: these patterns,” Houston said.
“But ‘Othering’ can be very destructive when rooted in prejudice. When one group sees itself superior and another inferior.”
Regarding the importance of learning about the Holocaust, Blythe said it could help SA better understand their own past and “our prejudices and ours Unpacking feelings about people who are different from us.”
She compared the way the Nazis scapegoated minorities for social grievances in Germany to how South Africans do the same to foreigners.
“We’re looking at issues where people are blaming foreigners for the lack of job opportunities, the poverty we experience and in many ways we see this happening in Nazi Germany – a minority (the Jews) is blamed for hyperinflation and poverty in general. These scapegoats can be dangerous,” she said.
“Also the dangerous language of comparing foreigners to cockroaches and rodents, which is genocidal language: dehumanizing people.”
Houston said violence against foreigners from other African countries is a modern example of “othering”.
“Operation Dudula began by targeting illegal African foreigners: ‘those who take our jobs, Create crime and all of that causes problems.” This week, that changed to, “We’re also going to target legal aliens who do manual labour.” So it’s a step in that journey of seeing others from a different perspective,” said Blythe Dudula is a dangerous movement because it portrays foreigners as a problem that needs to be removed from society.
“These are stereotypes about foreigners. They lead to violence because we know words have power. Speaking as if you are not human is dangerous. It’s not all talk, people are attacked because of their identity,” she said.
“This Afrophobia is becoming an epidemic here. So we want people to think critically about what they are being told about foreigners, because even if every foreigner in Africa had a job, we would still have a huge unemployment crisis.”
However, Operation Dudula one has always claimed it is a nonviolent movement.
Blythe added that she is in constant contact with foreigner and refugee groups in the country.
She said she has stories about Heard hate and threats of violence that foreigners face on a daily basis, sometimes to such an extent that they are unable to speak in taxis for fear of being identified as foreigners.
“Their stories are very poignant and we want to shed light on them.”
She said the importance of speaking out on these issues is compounded by the silence from executives who have authority to act on these issues .
“Everything, what it really is is to raise awareness of what can happen when prejudice and hate speech goes unchecked and leaders are quiet. This means you agree to it. What we’re seeing now is silence from our leaders on these issues of xenophobia, and that silence is very loud.”
Blythe said she hoped the workshops would be more than just a history curriculum, but something for students to take home and make them critical thinkers.
“We hope that through the workshops they will be able to understand how violence and genocide can happen. How all of these stories start with something so small, which is the way you think about other people and are able to question your own prejudices.”
Houston said the museum is striving afterwards to be “the keeper of memories” about the Holocaust and other genocides.
“We also want to reflect on these memories, because if we don’t think and learn, these memories disappear and die out,” said er.
“Our hope is that as much as you learn and honor the memory, you will also take home something to apply in your own life.”
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