Southern African Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) executive director Boniface Chembe says the on-going political rhetoric and intolerance against Chinese nationals may erupt in xenophobic attacks if not curtailed.

Chembe said in an interview, Tuesday, that continuous negative sentiments against Chinese nationals would instigate the process of dehumanising individuals of that race, and ultimately lead to attacks against them.

“As SACCORD, we believe that from time immemorial, no country has been an island. And if you study the trend of world developments, and how countries have been able to move from a low l to a high level, in more cases than not, you will find traces of involvement of other nationals. Other individuals or nationalities that may not belong to a particular ethnic group or race where development is taking place. So, you cannot run away from the fact that, whether you are in Zambia or any other country around the world, that you may need external expertise to contribute to the developmental process; either in investments or other kinds that are paramount to development. So, we believe that Chinese involvement in Zambia is not different from any other involvement of foreign involvement that the country has experienced over the years or from the time the country gained independence. So, yes, if we are not careful with the kind of rhetoric that is going on, it is likely to whip up sentiments that may increasingly have Zambians react negatively towards the Chinese because of the belief that they may be engaging in things that may not be very helpful to the country. And, yes, this may lead to xenophobic attacks,” Chembe cautioned.

“Now, let us contextualise this from a peace-building point of view; when you start a process of scapegoating a country’s problems on a particular people, history has shown that, that becomes a source of conflict. Genocides that have happened around the world, whether it be the Jews in Europe, for example, it all starts with scapegoating. So, when you scapegoat somebody, you start a process of dehumanising them. When you start a process of dehumanising a human being, over a long period of time, society begins to develop a negative sentiment, a negative energy towards them. It reaches a point where society begins to view such a group not as human, but as animals that need to be gotten rid of. And when society reaches that point, you have xenophobic attacks; you have genocides, you have all kind of evil things. So, we must be incredibly careful in terms of scapegoating. We shouldn’t be scapegoating. We must simply be constructive in engaging with all global nationals whether it’s the Chinese, the Europeans, the Americans; we must always be constructive in our engagements.”

He encouraged Zambians to interact more with foreigners to understand their undertakings and embrace them.

“Zambia requires help from different nationalities. What is key nonetheless is to listen to the desires of the people. If people are demanding that, fine let’s have a greater understanding between you and certain nationalities, then we must be in a position to engage, we must be in a position to give information, but most importantly in our view, we must increase people-to-people exchange so that more Zambians get to understand the undertakings of certain nationalities, including the Chinese and that nationality equally understands the undertakings or workings of Zambians. When you increase people-to-people interactions, you reduce the extent to which tension, perceptions and misperceptions, mistrust, scapegoating prevails in a society,” observed Chembe.