In a newly renovated white building in a South African township, about 20 children in judogi and others in school uniforms frolic on a tatami under the watchful eye of a trainer.
Coming from a nearby elementary school, they meet regularly for judo lessons here in the township of Alexandra, north of downtown Johannesburg and in the shadow of the financial center of Sandton.
The project aims to “use judo as a vehicle for … refugees, migrants (and) South Africans to meet,” said Judo for Peace coordinator Roberto Orlando. It is a “platform to be all equal, to learn together and to develop skills and values together”.
Alexandra is one of the poorest and most densely populated black townships in South Africa.
In 2008, more than 60 people – mostly migrant workers from other African countries – were killed in the country’s worst outbreak of xenophobic attacks since the end of apartheid.
Fourteen years later, the scourge of xenophobia, mainly aimed at black Africans, has not left the township.
Violent attacks on African immigrants still occur from time to time in Alexandra and other townships where crime and unemployment are rife.
Such attacks are mostly staged by unemployed black South Africans.
This year, tensions in Alexandra have risen again. For several months, a vigilante group called Operation Dudula – “push back” in the Zulu language – has been holding demonstrations calling for the expulsion of illegal immigrants.
Migrants, particularly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, have borne the brunt of xenophobia.
Orlando decided now more than ever was the best time for a dojo in the community. It officially opened its doors last month.
“Alexandra is one of the largest and most densely populated areas in South Africa. It’s an area where there has been a lot of xenophobic attacks and I think it’s one of the areas that should be targeted when we talk about teaching people how to live together,” he said.
Central to his teaching philosophy are the principles of self-control, discipline, respect, honor, courage and friendship.
– ‘Living together’ –
One of the trainers is Rudolph Ngala. He is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Having a migrant coach is strategic because “people can get used to seeing refugees as someone who brings skills to the country,” Orlando said.
Ngala, 21, arrived in South Africa from Kinshasa in 2017 and immediately started judo with Orlando. He has completed training to become a coach.
“Judo helped me a lot in making friends,” Ngala said. “In Alexandra, everyone who lives here is like my family. I am Congolese. I am black. i am african We are all Africans.”
Denzel Shumba, 17, who moved to South Africa with his family from Zimbabwe 10 years ago, stood and joked with two South Africans after attending a World Refugee Day weekend event on Monday, and also took up judo.
“South Africa (is) a difficult country sometimes because there is xenophobia there,” he said.
Shumba said taking up judo helped him become a calmer, more respectful and peaceful person, learned a valuable skill and made new friends.
And that’s exactly what Orlando wants to see.
“South Africa is something of a showcase of what’s happening in the world. We all mix. people migrate. We have to learn more and more from each other, learn to live together and side by side,” he said.
Orlando, athletic and with piercing blue eyes, is originally from Italy but has worked in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and now South Africa, establishing judo dojos to empower youth and integrate people in disadvantaged communities.
#Judo #helps #xenophobia #South #Africa