Judo helps fight xenophobia in South Africa


In a newly renovated white building in a small South African town, about 20 judo children and other school students rolled in uniforms on tatami mats as instructors watched.

They come from a nearby primary school and often gather for judo lessons in the shadow of the town of Alexandra and Sandton Financial Centre, north of Johannesburg city centre.

The project aims to “use judo as a tool for bringing together … refugees, migrants[and]South Africans,” said Roberto Orlando, coordinator of Judo Peace. It is a “platform where everyone is equal, learns together, and develops skills and values ​​together”.

Alexandra is one of the poorest and most densely populated black towns in South Africa.

In 2008, the country saw its worst xenophobic attack since the end of apartheid, killing more than 60 people, mostly migrant workers from other African countries.

Fourteen years on, the scourge of xenophobia, which primarily targets black Africans, has not left the town.

Violent attacks against African migrants still occur from time to time in Alexandra and other towns where crime and unemployment are rampant.

Such attacks were carried out mainly by unemployed black South Africans.

This year, tensions have escalated again in Alexandra. For months, a self-defense group called Operation Dudula — “fight back” in Zulu — has held marches demanding the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe bear the brunt of the xenophobic hostility.

Orlando now thinks more than ever that it’s the perfect time to open a dojo in town. It officially opened last month.

“Alexandra is one of the largest and most densely populated areas in South Africa. It’s an area that has had a lot of xenophobic attacks, and I think that’s one of the areas we should be targeting when we talk about teaching people how to live together,” he said. Say.

At the heart of his teaching philosophy are the principles of self-control, discipline, respect, honor, courage and friendship.

One of those coaches is Rudolph Ngala. He is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Having an immigration coach is strategic, Orlando said, because “people get used to seeing refugees as people who bring skills to the country.”

Ngala, 21, arrived in South Africa from Kinshasa in 2017 and immediately learned judo with Orlando. He has graduated as a coach.

“Judo has helped me a lot (making) friends,” Ngala said. “Everyone who lives here in Alexandra is like my family. I’m Congolese. I’m black. I’m African. We’re all African”.

Denzel Shumba, 17, who moved to South Africa with his family from Zimbabwe 10 years ago, joked with two South Africans after attending the World Refugee Day weekend on Monday. Start practicing judo.

“South Africa is (sometimes) a difficult place because of the xenophobia,” he said.

Shumba said learning 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 kind of shows what’s going on in the world. We’re all mixed up. People are migrating. We increasingly need to learn from each other, to learn to live together, next to each other,” he said.

Orlando, athletic, blue-eyed, is from Italy but has worked in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and now South Africa, building judo dojos to empower youth and integrate people in disadvantaged communities.


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