South Africa: Xenophobic Attacks on Foreigners and Businesses

BY Misheck Mberi – In the Rainbow Nation, South Africa, over a thousand African migrants have now fled their homes after a series of violent attacks on their homes and their businesses. There has been reports that many of the migrants have now been housed at local police stations and make shift tents as angry locals have vowed to drive them all out of South Africa in this new wave of Xenophobic attack.

Anti-Xenophobia Rally in South Africa

Anti-Xenophobia Rally in South Africa

The current xenophobic tempers of some local people in South Africa raging against foreigners is a worrying development, and one, unless attacked with systematic and strategic intelligence at governmental( and inter-governmental) level runs the risks of causing chronic social and economic instability particularly when the continent is undergoing unprecedented fragmentation as a result of globalisation. The seeming quietism and abject abstinence of action on the part of South African ruling authorities to rid itself of this virulent emotional virus at root sets a damaging and potentially explosive precedent throughout the continent where inter- population movements has always been a source of vibrant economic growth and development.

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has described the attacks of foreign nationals in the province of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa as “unacceptable,” calling an immediate halt while expressing once again her deep concerns regarding the attacks on foreign nationals. “Whatever the challenges we may be facing, no circumstances justify attacks on people, whether foreigners or locals. It is unacceptable.” She lamented.

While calling for an immediate halt to the attacks, the AU Commission welcomes the interventions from the South African government, including the deployment of the Inter-Ministerial committee to KwaZulu Natal to engage with those affected and with local communities, as well as the deployment of more police to provide protection and keep law and order. The AU Commission Chairperson decried the incidents as particularly unfortunate, as celebrations of Africa month approaches. “On 25 May we remember the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, which played such a critical role in mobilizing international solidarity for the end of Apartheid.” She added. The challenges faced by South Africa, poverty and unemployment, are challenges faced by all countries on the continent and we must work together to address these, and build a better future for all Africans. The AU Commission Chairperson appealed for dialogue in and amongst communities, to address the challenges and find peaceful solutions.

A comment from Adolf Mavheneke, that South Africa owes Africa for it past and should present one of the best examples for its future is poignant. With only 20 years into the country’s democracy, and to imagine that the fight against apartheid took a regional dimension with ANC and other anti-apartheid forces finding assistance from countries in the region and beyond. It is all clear that South Africans and their leadership have learnt nothing from the struggle against apartheid. We are not oblivious to the fact that before 1994, a lot of South Africans were scattered all over the SADC region and beyond both as political and economic refugees. What has happened to that solidarity? Where is the South African government? Where are the wise political ideas of Thabo Mbeki and other Pan-Africans to meet the new challenges of a post- apartheid South Africa in our increasingly fragmented globalised world? Where is the moral and emotional intelligence of the majority of South Africans that informed their undimmed struggle for freedom? Sad, Sad! Sad that Mugabe the current SADC and AU premier was in South Africa, but instead of a serious focus on the xenophobic/afro-phobic attacks and tendencies directed his rage on letting the world know that Cecil John Rhodes was not a guiding light to the serious scholarly endeavours of young African minds.

Speech by the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini

It is alleged that the violence erupted soon after a speech made by the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, in which the king complains that his people are lazy, who will not work, who rape, who steal(commit crime), this is in reference to the local criminals. Most of his speech has been devoted to the local criminals which he refers to as “our own lice…and fleas…”. It is peculiar to every indigenous language that its true meaning can be lost in translation. In this sense oppositional opportunists always wait in the wings to appropriate and distort meanings for their own agendas. Even though the King devotes a few lines to the foreign criminals who he suggest add to the burden of local criminals that the country should be contending with and trying to resolve, his speech did not inflame the grievance of South Africans to attack foreigners. In short his message was meant to be translated as “let foreign criminals go to their own countries where their own governments should deal with them and leave South Africa to deal with its own criminals.” The king never (in this section/sub-theme of his speech) referred to the good upstanding local people and regular citizens of South Africa, nor did he therefore refer in anyway (in the context of his speech) to the foreign nationals in good standing.

A speech by President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward Zuma

President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward Zuma

President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward Zuma

Edward Zuma spoke to and was quoted saying: “We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of them (foreigners) taking over the country.

“The reason why I am saying that is because some of the foreigners are working for private security companies where they have been employed for cheap labour. These companies are running away from complying with South African labour laws.”

Edward Zuma concluded the interview with News24 that he fully agreed and shared the same sentiments with Zwelithini and that foreigners need to leave the country.

Earlier in 2015

Earlier in the year foreign business people in and around Soweto had been forced to evacuate their premises after violence and looting broke out. The government was quick to intervene and immediately sent out mediation teams to stop the violence spreading.

In 2008, over 62 people were killed in the xenophobic violence with many thousands fleeing back to their countries soon after the violence erupted.

People’s opinion on the situation

Xenophobia is a direct result of the underlying socio-economic issues that are plaguing not just South Africa but the continent as whole. The rising levels of unemployment, minimal job creation, a poor service delivery, poor quality of education, high levels of corruption as well as racial inequality are just some of the issues that remain unresolved.

Rally against xenophobia

Rally against xenophobia

Its more than 20 years into South Africa’s democracy but there is little visible economic gains to show for the hard fought freedom won. The ANC government has been largely quiet on racial and economic inequality over this period and the few policies (e.g. BEE) they have tried to implement have only benefited a minority of the previously disadvantaged groups.

It is difficult to argue against the general view that the South African government is largely to blame for this inhumane behaviour. Their rather reactive stance on Xenophobia since 2008 when the first attacks occurred has yielded nothing but contempt for foreigners. These are the same foreigners who contribute to the economy and growth of South Africa.

Hence, the majority feel the real issue behind these attacks are not because foreigners have established themselves in South Africa, but are a result of poor leadership and lack of economic growth.

The migrant community in South Africa feel that Xenophobia is perpetrated by those sections of society who are uneducated, poor and living in shanty squatter camps etc who are bearing the brutality of bad socio-economic as well as political policies.

If jobs had been created, education improved, socio-economic issues dealt with and corruption condemned in the strongest possible ways would South Africans be this disgruntled, would Xenophobia be present at all in South Africa?

More to follow.