On Wednesday, the Inkatha Freedom Party released a statement that perfectly illustrates a dangerous trend among some South African politicians.
In response to police raids on counterfeit goods vendors in central Johannesburg, the party said: “It is high time that those who seek to circumvent the law and sell illegal counterfeit goods and products in our country be met with the full might of the law.” It added: “The IFP believes that all undocumented foreign nationals must be held to account.”
In isolation, neither sentiment is especially problematic. Counterfeit goods are illegal. And everybody in South Africa, both citizens and foreigners, requires some form of documentation by law.
The problem arises when these two issues are conflated. The implication — that somehow foreigners are uniquely responsible for criminality — is not subtle. It is an appeal to the same shallow nationalism that United States President Donald Trump invoked when he told four US congresswomen of colour to “go back” to their own countries, as if they are foreigners (they are not) and as if being foreign is somehow inferior.
If this issue were just about counterfeit goods, then South African nationals and non-nationals alike would have been caught in the dragnet. As the Economic Freedom Fighters’s Floyd Shivambu astutely observed on Twitter: “We should however be concerned that the confiscation of counterfeit goods and products only happens against Africans.”
If this issue were just about non-documented migrants, then surely the IFP — and the Gauteng ANC and the Democratic Alliance, which have both echoed the IFP’s position — should be pressing for the home affairs department to implement effective systems to process visa and asylum applications.
Blaming foreigners for a nation’s problems is a tactic beloved of populist and nationalist politicians everywhere. South Africa, with so many issues to fix, cannot afford to be distracted by yet another outbreak of xenophobia.