A new, community-based forum aimed at healing relations between South Africans and Nigerians that were damaged after recent deadly xenophobic violence was introduced to the media in Gauteng this week.
“We give the glory to God and are grateful that He blessed it [the forum] and that it actually came from His heart and that we can change the narrative from negative to positive,” said Pastor Segun Olanipekun, CEO of the Institute of Christian Leadership Development and a founding ambassador of the newly-formed Nig-SA Unity Forum.
Olanipekun, who is a Nigerian national, said news of the healing initiative which was launched at a meeting of Nigerians and South Africans in Midrand on Thursday last week, got extensive and positive coverage across a range of media platforms yesterday. He said news of the forum quickly went viral and even before yesterday afternoon’s press conference was over, he was called by people in Nigeria who had learned about the initiative on SA news channels.
Olanipekun and fellow forum ambassador, ACDP leader Rev Kenneth Meshoe, who has been visiting affected communities and apologising to foreign nationals on behalf of SA for the xenophobic attacks, both spoke extensively to the media yesterday.
In an interview on the SABC news channel’s The Agenda Olanipekun explained that the forum was launched in Midrand on Thursday last week by a group of Nigerian and SA pastors, academics and business people who met to apologise to each other on behalf of their respective nations and to plan a way ahead.
He said the Nigerian members of the forum “apologised for criminal elements among us” and also highlighted positive contributions of Nigerians to SA, both during the struggle against apartheid and current contributions towards economic and social development.
He said South Africans received the apology and committed to share it throughout the community. In turn, they apologised for “painting every Nigerian with the same brush”.
Olanipekun said one of the highlights of last week’s forum meeting was the commitment by “our South African friends” to provide a platform for ongoing dialogue in the townships that would bring South Africans and Nigerians together to change the narrative for the better.
He said: “When good news is not reported of the contribution of peace-loving people on both sides of the divide, then, when there is criminal activity perpetrated by one person, people tend to paint everybody with the same brush, and build stereotypes out of that. And we say that should not be the case.
“While we trust government to deal with criminality on both sides of the divide, we want to spread the good stories of positive relationships and development between the two communities.”
He told Gateway News today that it was decided to launch the forum with South Africans and Nigerians, in order to keep the focus on the main participants in the recent conflict. But he said they ultimately planned to broaden the forum to include citizens of other African nations living in SA.