Many foreigners are desperate for a better life, but red tape and antagonism have left them hopeless.
Abdulrazaq Awofeso loves South Africa, but is bitter with "the system". He left his home in Nigeria to pursue a career in fine art in Johannesburg. To find a job when he got here, he picked up the Yellow Pages and flipped through to the art gallery section, then phoned each one on the list.
"At first they listened. Then they asked where my accent was from, and said they couldn't help. It's wrong to brand a whole community because of a few bad people," he said.
Sitting in an armchair in his rented rooms in Newlands, west of Johannesburg, he said he is the only foreigner living in his street. Life is easy and he gets along with his neighbours.
"I distinguish between xenophobia and xenolooting. Looting is where ordinary South Africans wake up and need to release their anger, so they look for someone to hold responsible for their problems and come and smash foreigner's shops. It's always about stealing," he said, offering me a glass of cold mango juice.
"Xenophobia starts at the top, where the structures are not foreigner-friendly," he said. Leaning back in his chair, he then described the problems that the home affairs department gives foreigners.
When his work permit was about to expire, he applied for a new one. But months later he was told that the documents had been lost and that he had to submit duplicates. This happened in 2011 and he is still waiting. His permit is heavily folded and creased, and is full of stamps from every visit to home affairs.
In the meantime, the bank has frozen his account.
"I went to the ATM to get money to pay maintenance to look after my child, but it didn't work. I then went inside and only then they told me that my account was frozen because I didn't have a permit," Awofeso said.
With his money out of reach, the mother of his daughter took him to maintenance court. At the same time, he tried to apply to be a guardian of the child, but the court would not recognise his application because he did not have a permit.
"I hoped the court would see my problem, and maybe even approach home affairs. But they didn't. So now I cannot even see my child."
The child's mother's family has also cut Awofeso off, and they do not take any of his calls.
"They won't even let her take my surname, when I am her father. They say that they cannot because my surname is makwerekwere [a derogatory term for foreigner], and the child would be discriminated against," he said.
His embassy does nothing, he said, except when a person dies. "Even the South Africans – look at Macia [Mido, the taxi driver who was dragged behind a police van and later died in custody] – only care about you when you are dead. He got a death certificate quickly, and he probably never got any other documents that quickly," he said.
For now, Awofeso waits. He had to cancel visits to his own exhibitions in England and Israel because of the permit. "I am bitter because I cannot help my daughter because of the system. They preach ubuntu, but you do not see it," he said.
Fearing the police
In Randburg, a big tree provides shade for people who are looking for jobs. Every day they sit and wait for a passing bakkie or truck to show interest in employing them. Worn-out copies of newspapers get passed around to keep boredom at bay. The system is their enemy, and none of them wanted to be named in this article. Even a name in the margins of a notepad was unacceptable – they feared the police would come.
The most vocal of the group, a man from Mozambique in his 30s, said: "The way the government treats you is fucked up, man. You come here and try to work hard and there is no support. They just put things in the way," he said with a raised voice.
"They" being the government.
Another man, from Zimbabwe, said he had given up trying to become legal: "I had a permit when I first came here in the early 2000s, but they lost the paperwork. You had to give in your originals, like a birth certificate, when you applied. So then you would have to go back home to get a new one. So now I have to work like this because I do not have a permit."
They are forced to work for cash, and cannot open bank accounts or get anything on credit, or on contract. The only work that they can get that pays cash is informal labour.
"This system here is shit," said the Zimbabwean. "They treat you like you are a bad person. I am a human, I want to be treated properly."
He left his home after the electoral violence in 2002, and saw in South Africa a chance to be safe and work to earn money to send home. He tried to change his fortunes when home affairs had a general amnesty in 2010, but after submitting an application, he never heard about it again.
Now he worries about the police. They all worry about the police, or immigration officers. They send money home, but can't return home because they would be arrested at the border and would not be able to get back into South Africa.
Legal at arrival
A much older Mozambican man said he used to be a teacher at home, but left because of the long war. He has been living in South Africa for nearly two decades, and was legal when he arrived and employed as a bricklayer on a big construction site. But now he has to take any job that pays cash because of lost documents and rejected applications. "Foreigners have to stick together, because people here are bad to foreigners. They can swear at you and call you a makwerekwere and say you must go home," he said. Wearing worn overalls, he looked resigned as he rested his chin on his hand.
"We are all Africans, but here people think they are superior, so they treat you like you are less than them, especially the government. We have no rights," he said.
The lack of rights worries them all, even more so after the death of Macia. On mentioning his name, the quieter members of the group joined in the conversation.
"What can you expect from the police? This is what they are like," said a very young-looking man from Swaziland.
The group agreed that foreigners are used to the police treating them roughly and always swearing at them. Police vans often stop next to the tree to check permits, but because most of the workers are South African, they are usually safe.
They hope the death of Macia changes the way police treat foreigners, but most of the men just shake their heads. "Nothing will change," said the young Swazi.