10 September 2019 | Story Leonie Bolleurs | Photo Leonie Bolleurs
student dialogue
Dialogues presented by the Office for International Affairs provide a safe space for people to voice their opinions, to learn, and to engage. Here are, from the left: Montsi Ramonaheng, third-year BSc student majoring in Biochemistry and Genetics; Lebohang Lesenyeno, third-year LLB student; Motsaathebe Serekoane, Lecturer in Anthropology; and Bulelwa Moikwatlhai from the Office for International Affairs.

Will the creation of one African country solve the problem of xenophobia? 

This was the question raised at a recent dialogue session on the University of the Free State Bloemfontein Campus.

Most attendees believed the concept of ‘one Africa’ implied that only one language and one dominant culture would be needed – resulting in the spirit of multiculturalism ceasing to exist. When one speaks of a united Africa, it means that the continent recognises the diversity of its cultures and embraces these diversities. It was concluded that one Africa was not a solution to ending xenophobia.

Awareness of xenophobia from a human rights perspective

The Office for International Affairs hosted the two-dialogue series aimed at addressing an array of social issues such as xenophobia, cultural appropriation, and xenocentrism. They wanted to demonstrate the influence these issues have – not only on the mindsets of individuals, but also on how it can contribute towards the development of an unjust society devoid of embracing difference.

The first session was titled: Burn the Phobia, with the theme: ‘We are all foreigners somewhere’. The aim of this dialogue was to create awareness of xenophobia from a human rights perspective. 

Recently, a second dialogue session was presented, with the theme ‘Appropriation vs Xenocentrism’. According to Bulelwa Moikwatlhai, Officer in the Office for International Affairs, the purpose of this session was to encourage people to appreciate their own cultures and to respect other peoples’ cultures.

“We wanted to critically discuss cultural appropriation versus xenocentrism in an attempt to find a human response that is inclusive in nature,” says Moikwatlhai.

Direct outflow of UFS Integrated Transformation Plan

The lecture was presented by Motsaathebe Serekoane, Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the UFS, who urged attendees to always keep it authentic. He also stated that, as boundaries between the North and the South collapsed and knowledge flowed in and out, knowledge from the South was not taken seriously. 

“We lost ourselves within what happened in the North. We want to be appropriate and we want what they have, because it is more beautiful than what we have. We need to find something in Africa that will define us as African,” he says. 

These dialogues are a build-up to the International Cultural Diversity Festival that will take place at the Thakaneng Bridge on 13 September 2019 from 12:00 to 14:00.

The dialogue is a direct outflow of the university’s Integrated Transformation Plan. “We strive to cultivate a culture where everyone feels welcome and comfortable. We want to create common ground for international and South African students to get together and to collaboratively discuss issues from both parties in order to find innovative solutions to student challenges,” indicates Moikwatlhai.

Much of what is learnt in these sessions is used for reflection in order to improve the overall student experience. According to Miokwatlhai, it is essential to ensure that all processes related to students are structured to be socially just and inclusive. 

“As an institution of higher learning, we need to continuously create such platforms so that we have rich engagements about pertinent issues that affect the UFS community, and find human solutions to overcome barriers,” she concludes.

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