SA faces continent’s wrath as xenophobia rears its head again

A resurgence of anti-immigrant violence has sparked outrage in other African countries and spurred calls for more to be done to stamp out xenophobia.

Residents of Mamelodi and Atteridgeville took to the streets last week to protest against the presence of undocumented Nigerians, Pakistanis and Zimbabweans, who they accuse of perpetuating crime and taking jobs away from locals. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, who stoned cars and used rocks to block off streets. At least 136 people were arrested.

Protesters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, vandalised the offices of South African company MTN in protest over xenophobic attacks. The Nigerian government summoned South Africa’s high commissioner to register its concerns about the threat to its nationals, Agence France-Presse reported, citing junior foreign minister Bukar Ibrahim. On Monday, Ghanaian lawmaker Okudzeto Ablakwa called on the African Union to take action.

“The government has to do more,” Ablakwa, who sits on the foreign affairs committee in Ghana’s parliament, told Accra-based Class FM. “Sometimes you don’t get very clear signals from authorities. Their comments sometimes exacerbate the situation and that really is worrying.”

Burning houses
Herman Mashaba, the major of Johannesburg, has labelled some undocumented migrants criminals. Residents of the city’s southern Rosettenville suburb this month set fire to at least a dozen houses that they said were used as drug dens or brothels and were mostly occupied by foreigners.


Anti-immigrant violence also claimed seven lives in 2015 before the army and police restored calm, and in 2008 about 60 people died and 50 000 were forced to flee their homes. Attacks have mostly taken place in poor townships, where some residents see migrants as competitors for jobs, business opportunities and scarce housing.

President Jacob Zuma has appealed for calm and condemned the violence.

“We are not a xenophobic country,” Zuma said in a February 24 statement. “At the same time, we cannot close our eyes to the concerns of the communities that most of the crimes such as drug dealing, prostitution and human trafficking are allegedly perpetuated by foreign nationals.”

Ablakwa said the South African government’s failure to create sufficient jobs and economic opportunities for its citizens has sparked a backlash against foreigners.

“We saw these xenophobic attacks in 2008, we saw it in 2015 and this latest one, it is becoming one too many,” he said. “If you are not careful, citizens who are in their home countries feel that citizens living elsewhere are not given the needed protection. What that will lead to is reprisal attacks.” – Bloomberg 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

SA needs a speak-out culture and whistleblowers are recognised as patriots

With corruption and fraud endemic in South Africa, whistleblowers have played a pivotal role in bringing wrongdoing to light. Despite their invaluable role to society, in most cases their own outcomes are harrowing and devastating. Mandy Weiner’s new book The Whistleblowers shares their stories. The following is an extract.
Advertising
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday