Let’s put this out there from the outset: the South Sudanese Australian community has had enough. We won’t accept to be bullied – not anymore. The recent comments by the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, sensationalising some sporadic and isolated incidents involving South Sudanese Australian youths in Melbourne have touched a nerve.
We are not gangs. We are hard-working citizens. We put in a shift every day, just like any other Australian, to contribute to the progress of this country. Simply put, we have a voice in the affairs of this country, and it will be heard loud and clear henceforth.
The Coalition government’s problem
This is not the first time a Coalition government has put the South Sudanese Australian community in harm’s way, and for the wrong reason. Liberal MP Kevin Andrews did this before but it went largely unchallenged. Social and political commentator Andrew Bolt has also done it, time and again. Dutton’s recent comments, propped up by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, will not go unchallenged. Africans, the South Sudanese Australian community in particular, have had it – enough is enough. We’re taking matters into our own hands. Together with all like-minded Australians, we will call out this government to stop targeting our community.
We expect from an Australian government, be it Liberal or Labor, to be sensitive about issues involving a minority community – South Sudanese or other.
Using a minority community for political point scoring is a sign of bad leadership. Politicking with a community’s welfare by making incendiary comments, without regard to the possible consequences to that community, is a sign of a government losing its grip on leadership.
There’s a problem
All that aside, there can be no resolution of a problem without acknowledging its very existence. The South Sudanese Australian community is deeply concerned by the actions of some of its young members – whether this is in Melbourne or anywhere else in this country. We’ve always acknowledged that some young members of our society are letting our community down. We suspect their actions are mainly down to youth, fuelled by alcohol consumption and other influences. We’ve seen our community leaders working tirelessly together with authorities to understand the underlying problems facing our youths. Above all the speculation of what these underlying problems might be, it is widely accepted that issues of transition are complex. The South Sudanese Australian community is just over a decade old in this country. Our community continues to be haunted by past experiences and confronted by the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. Cultural complexities continue to undermine our community’s smooth transition. Some of our parents are being challenged by the behaviours of their children. Culturally, a South Sudanese young person is expected to be obedient and never to question the authority of a parent. This is no longer the case with the young South Sudanese Australians, which might add to some parents’ despondency.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the challenges we are facing. Relevant authorities just need to work together with the South Sudanese Australian community leaders to curb these problems.
The Victorian government’s announcement of an African-Australian community taskforce is probably not a bad call. I am however cautious about it at this stage. I am worried that it may be used by some elements in the law enforcement agencies to undermine the privacy of our young people and their right to assemble as a group.
The federal government needs to assist the community and sufficiently fund its social programmes. From this funding, the community must take up the responsibility of education, employment and all other activities that will enhance our young people’s social welfare.
The South Sudanese Australian young people also need to take up this mantle. The social media campaign #AfricanGangs we’ve started shouldn’t just be the end of it. It’s been great; however, it needs to extend beyond social media.
We need to engage the younger members of our community so that we can chart a way forward together.
• Maker Mayek is a lawyer and the co-campaigner behind the #AfricanGangs social media campaign