A group of community leaders in fluoro yellow vests from Melbourne’s South Sudanese community will be easily identifiable among the crowd at this weekend’s Moomba festivities.
The group has stepped up its efforts to avoid a repeat of last year’s violent brawls that erupted at the three-day festival involving many of their younger brothers, sons and daughters by wearing high visibility vests emblazoned with “South Sudanese Community Leaders” across the back.
Their plan is to approach African youths engaging in antisocial behaviour before it escalates, says Kot Monoah.
The lawyer and chair of the South Sudanese Community in Victoria said 11 “elders”, both men and women, would be at Moomba, actively seeking out young African men and women and urging them to talk about their troubles.
“The goal is to remind them to do the right thing,” he said. “If we see them congregating in big groups, we approach them and ask them how their night was going, are they waiting for friends, when will they be leaving?
“It sounds a bit strange to an everyday person but we are their brothers and their elders,” he said. “Some walk off and don’t want to engage. Others are very friendly, they don’t expect us to be on the street.”
He hopes that by wearing the high visibility vests, troubled youngsters will also seek them out for guidance.
Mr Monoah said the group first donned the vests at White Night and on weekends in Melbourne’s west, and the initiative had so far proved successful.
“We haven’t witnessed any incidents as far as we can tell. We’re the reminder, if they’re blocking escalators or being antisocial, we’ll intervene,” he said. “We’re there to engage and tell them what you’re doing is wrong.”
The Sunshine-based lawyer came to Australia on a humanitarian visa with his mother and siblings after fleeing civil war in South Sudan. He said he learnt to duck bullets and shrapnel as a child and was schooled under a tree in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. He said many of his “brothers” causing trouble on the streets today were born in Australia and take their freedom for granted.
“The rest of the South Sudanese community are good, law-abiding people,” he said. “These young people don’t have the appreciation we have for what Australia has given us. Young people don’t have those values, they just want to have fun.”
The leaders will be at Moomba on Saturday and Sunday night from 7pm.
Police will also beef up their presence to detect potential trouble as 1 million people descend on the city for the Labour Day long weekend festival.
©Alleastafrica and The Age