Xenophobic violence a black South African constant
South African pro-immigration organisations, including Sonke Gender Justice and refugee organisation UniFam, marched to Parliament on Saturday demanding that the South African government protect foreigners.
Published: March 6, 2017, 7:58 am
They called on Home Affairs officials to treat refugees and immigrants with respect and process their applications fairly.
The protest comes a week after xenophobic violence broke out in Pretoria where foreigners were attacked by black South Africans.
Protester Lumumba Chia told EWN News that some black people are using immigrants as scapegoats. “There is enough in this continent for all of us. You can’t say these people came here to take your jobs or wives.”
Western Cape leadership for refugees chairperson Jean-Pierre Balous urged black South Africans can coexist with immigrants. “We need to be tolerant towards one another. Many people have been pushed away from their countries and some are not here by choice.”
The march was organised after a xenophobic march by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents through the streets of Pretoria, on 24 February. They accused immigrants of taking jobs from South Africans, causing crime, and complained that “[t]hey are arrogant and they don’t know how to talk to people, especially Nigerians”.
Black South African attacked foreign owned shops in the city looting goods in yet another outburst of xenophobic violence in South Africa’s political capital, Pretoria, and commercial capital, Johannesburg. Most of the foreigners attacked came from African countries who were very outspoken against Apartheid, ironically.
The African Union interceded in April 2015 during the last explosion of xenophobic violence, with little to show for their efforts. Many Malawians fled South Africa in 2015 after xenophobic attacks on immigrants. “South Africa is like, I don’t know – you are moving on top of a crocodile,” a Malawian resident said. “Any time it can turn and bite you,” he told VOA news.
Nigerians, in particular, are singled out in the xenophobic attacks. In response Nigerian protesters have attacked the premises of South Africa’s cellphone giant MTN in Abuja, while the Nigerian Senate this week threatened to expel that and several other South African corporations doing business in their country. Over the last 10 days Nigeria summoned South Africa’s High Commissioner, Lulu Mnguni twice to protest against the continued xenophobia. And Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, has called on the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) to intervene.
The Nigerian Senate also resolved to send a Parliamentary delegation to South Africa to protest against the attacks on shops and homes of Nigerians and other foreigners, several of whom were injured.
Nigerian students last week staged a protest at the South African High Commission in Abuja, burnt the country’s national flag and issued a 48-hour ultimatum to South African nationals to leave Nigeria.
The African Diaspora Forum (ADF), which represents African migrant communities in South Africa, met with South African authorities – singling out particularly Johannesburg’s Democratic Alliance mayor Herman Mashaba – to complain about the attacks. The ADF has accused Mashaba of inciting the attacks by blaming illegal immigrants for the lawlessness of Johannesburg.
ADF chair Marc Gbaffou told ISS Today this week that ADF leaders met Mashaba on Tuesday last week and urged him to publicly retract this statement. He refused to do so, Gbaffou said. Mashaba told them that they should be thanking him for ordering his officials to shoot at black South African citizens to protect migrants, instead of demanding he retract his statement.
Gbaffou has threatened to refer Mashaba to the South African Human Rights Commission. The ADF was also calling on all the major South African political parties to tell South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world where they stand on the violent attacks on immigrants.
‘The position of political parties is not clear and we suspect some political parties may be instigating the attacks,’ said Gbaffou. He also criticised the government, saying it was always “reactive” to xenophobic attacks. When they occur, “the government spends so much time trying to find another name for it so they don’t have to call it xenophobia”. Gbaffou said one Democratic Republic of Congo national had been killed in Cape Town this week. The Somali Community Board of South Africa said, by early February, 14 Somalis had been killed in the Western Cape alone, though this has not been confirmed.
He deplored the decision by President Jacob Zuma and the government to allow last Friday’s violent march in Pretoria to go ahead on the basis that it was a protest against crime, including drug-dealing and prostitution, rather than against foreigners.
Many South Africans welcomed other Africans into their country, he said. “But the reality is that many others don’t want to be associated with foreigners. That’s xenophobia.”
Gareth Newham, Head of the Crime and Justice Programme at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), agrees that a big part of the problem is that political leaders legitimise xenophobic attitudes. He cites Zuma’s statement that “we cannot close our eyes to the concerns of communities that most of the crimes, such as drug-dealing, prostitution and human trafficking, are allegedly perpetrated by foreign nationals.”
During the 2008 attacks, at least 62 people were killed, and in 2015 at least seven.
Richard Ots, head of the South African office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), suggests that the death toll has been lower in 2017 than in 2015 because of a faster police response. Ots says there are three main elements to violence against migrants: xenophobic feelings, criminal opportunism and scapegoatism.
Xenophobic sentiments should be tackled with social cohesion and cultural awareness programmes, but also the existing programme of helping to repatriate immigrants who want to go home.
Research by the Gauteng City Region Observatory indicates that in Gauteng more than 40 percent of its citizens are generally xenophobic. South African Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu even told foreign business owners that they cannot expect to co-exist peacefully with local business owners unless they share their trade secrets.
Last week Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s adviser on foreign affairs: “The continued killing of Nigerians will result in dire consequences if not stopped.” She also noted, “We have lost 116 Nigerians [in attacks in South Africa] in the last two years. And in 2016 alone, about 20 were killed.
“This is unacceptable to the people and Government of Nigeria.”
South Africa, a country whose nominal GDP is not much bigger than that of tiny Finland, now has more asylum-seekers than any other country: at the end of 2015, South Africa had a total of 1 057 600 asylum-seekers.
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