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The Sooner, The Better. (A look at Xenophobia in South Africa)

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A look at xenophobia in South Africa, it's history, potential causes, proposed solutions and opinion.

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Xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals are on the increase as confirmed by the president of the Nigerian Union in South Africa, Mr Ikechukwu Anyene on Friday. The build up to attack started on Thursday night when the South Africans started gathering in the neighborhood of the Nigerians and the Nigerians living there did not sleep. Early Friday morning,the south Africans struck, reported Anyene.

South AfricaThe mechanic workshop of a Nigerian (identity withheld), with 10 cars and some tools inside, was destroyed. "When the south African police intervened,the attackers dared them and opened fire", he said. He went on to say even though the police chased them away,the attackers re-grouped and still carried out the act.

Anyene urged the Federal Government to engage the South African authorities in dialogue with a view to halting the attacks immediately. "South Africa has lots of businesses in Nigeria and they are doing so well.Also,the South Africans live in Nigeria and it is on record that Nigerians have never carried out xenophobic attacks on fellow Africans. The South African government's response to the attacks was not enough because more foreigners were being attacked everyday. Even though no Nigerian has been killed,it may get to that because we have had close shaves with death. The real truth is that Nigerians have lost so much in their businesses to the attacks.The time has come for the Nigerian government to make a categorical statement on these attacks. We are not happy with what is happening and something urgent must be done to stop the attacks", he said.

The Nigerians over there most now keep vigil to ensure they are not taken unaware. Tension is everywhere leading to the closing of shops by Nigerians for fear of being attacked. South Africans are basically looting foreigners properties in addition to killing/attacking them. This is taking place mostly in a town known as Durban. Other cities affected in the past include Gugulethu, Khayelitsha and Philippi, Cape Town, Botshabelo and Johannesburg. It has been confirmed that citizens of Nigeria, Congo, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Somalia, India and Pakistan, have been affected. The figures are most probably larger.

Brief History of Xenophobia in South Africa

This is not the first time the issue of xenophobia has been mentioned in South Africa. African Immigrants before 1994 faced discrimination and violence. Although this could be traced to aprtheid/institutionalized racism. There were reports of tribal warface between local tribes such as the Xhosa's and Zulu's. Democracy in 1994 didn't bring a reduction the occurence of these, but rather an increase was observed as expressed by Michael Neocosmos in "From 'Foreign Natives' to 'Native Foreigners' published in 2010".
Again between 2000 and 2008, xenophobia was the main culprit in the death of about 129 people, of which 21 were confirmed to be South Africans.

According to a 2004 study published by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP):
"The African National Congress (ANC) government – in its attempts to overcome the divides of the past and build new forms of social cohesion... embarked on an aggressive and inclusive nation-building project. One unanticipated by-product of this project has been a growth in intolerance towards outsiders... Violence against foreign citizens and African refugees has become increasingly common and communities are divided by hostility and suspicion."

A citizen survey across carried ut by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for member states found South Africans expressing the harshest anti-foreigner sentiment, with 21% of South Africans in favour of a complete ban on entry by foreigners and 64% in favour of strict limitations on the numbers of foreigners allowed into the country. Surpisingly, the second highest proportion of citizens in favour of a total ban on foreigners were in neighbouring Namibia and Botswana, at 10%. 21% and 10% is a huge figure considering the difference in size of population betwenn Namibia and South Africa, with the latter being much larger.

Government Actions

The South African governmet seems reluctant to take action against the perpetuators, nor identify the sitaution as Xenophobia. It is widely said that wrong diagnosis leads to wrong treatment. I can only hope this is not the case.

Causes of Xenophobia in South Africa

Nosiviwe Mapisa NqakulaIt is difficult to pinpoint a single cause for the xenophobia, whether it be a lack of governance in this matter or a misconception held by South African citizens. The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) of attitudes among police officers in the Johannesburg area after a study, found that 87% of respondents believed that most undocumented immigrants in Johannesburg are involved in crime, despite there being no statistical evidence to substantiate the perception. This together with the vulnerability of these undocumentated immigrants were seen as the culprit in the abuse, attack, and extortion experienced by these immigrants. The police force is not seen as doing enough either and often untrusted to the point of being suspected of taking sides with the xenophones and joining in bullying, stealing, blackmailing and extorting from them under the pretext of unfounded allegation such as the immigrants selling drugs or being into criminalistic business. As reported by Independent Online in "Minister slams treatment of refugees by cops"" published on the 6th of September 2008, the home affairs minister at the time, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, admitted that the police were mistreating refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants.

Hence, the causes of this xenophobia may be traced to:

  • Relative deprivation: Increased competition for jobs, housing, goods and services. Confirmed by Human Sciences Research Council
  • Nationalistic group processes (rather than superordinate) as published by Kamau, C. & Rutland, A. in "A quasi-experiment on the effects of superordinate categorization on liking of people from other nations. Psychology and Developing Societies" in 2008
  • Exclusive Citizenship which exludes others in a nationalistic manner as published by "Human Science Research Council" in the article "Violence and xenophobia in South Africa: Developing consensus, moving to action" retrieved in 2008
  • Superiority complex, or Exceptionalism felt by South African citizens in relation to other Africans. Confirmed by Human Sciences Research Council.
  • Uncontrolled influx of immigrants and Poor services seen in the report "Towards Tolerance, Law and Dignity: Addressing Violence against Foreign Nationals in South Africa", commissioned by the International Organisation for Migration
  • Promotion/Negligence by Local Government to score political points and cement authority through winning local support
  • Failure of National Government to resolve the issue by failing to recognize it, categorize it properly, imprement adequte control and prevention strategies, and deal squarely with the perpetuators.
  • From talks of reintegration to clemency, there has Non-unified changing policy/stance by the government on deportation or keeping of refugees leaving some citizens the option to try to take laws in their own lands.
  • Failure of the police force to protect immigrants, collect evidence and prosecute xenophobic criminals.
  • Failure of the judiciary system to give rightful sentences to xenophobic criminals. Out of 1400 suspects that were arrested as of March 2009, only 128 individuals have been convicted. 30 were found not guilty in 105 concluded court cases. 208 cases were withdrawn and 156 still being heard. (Published in "Xenophobia cases must be finalised". The Times. Retrieved 15 March 2009)

Proposed Solutions

I still believe that xenophobia and violence stemming from it can be eradicated in South Africa. I would propose the following solutions:

  1. Provide opportunities for immigrants. It's a common saying that the idle mind is the devil's workshop. More people legally working means fewer likelihood that these people would be engaging in illegal or criminal activities.
  2. The government should first of recognize clearly that Xenophobia is a current unresolved problem in South Africa and then set a constant clear policy pertaining to immigrants. Whether it be re-integration or integration/clemency. The opinion of most citizens should be sought and effectively implemented in a way that respects human rights and safety of immigrants.
  3. The cost for engaging in Xenophobia should be drastically increased. Criminals must be prosecuted and sentenced. THe police force should gather enough evidence, and all those (including the police force and public workers) secretly advocating for xenophobic attacks must be punished. The judges/prosecutors must be cooperative as well.
  4. Educate the masses on the benefits of your policy so they can get a buying into it and organize less riots.
  5. Organize more multi-national social events to promote unity across the continent Africa, and world.

Personal Opinion of the Country

In my opinion, South Africa is a great and friendly country. Once the largest economy in Africa, before being overtaken by Nigeria, it is the promised land for many. I have been to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban Ville in South Africa and I loved the friendliness of most people I came in contact with, and the more reason I get shocked by the paradox of these recent occurences. It is understandable why many African immigrants would choose South Africa as their default location, considering the promise it holds. Also, the level of infrastructural development in South Africa is still one of the best, if not clearly the best in Africa.

Also, to be fair, South African citizens have the right to protect their interests at home, especially as it is never pleasurable to see foreigners steal opportunities meant for citizens.
Nevertheless, the earlier these attacks are stopped, the better for everone. Many foreigners lives are currently at risk and this might lead to unplanned escalation/retaliation sooner or later. Also, many Nigerians illegally living abroad should come home and build the country. There are opportunities back home, even though the competition is high, just like in any other country. Nigeria recently became the biggest economy in Africa which tells of the growth of the economy. Such growth comes with new opportunities and means of livelihood in various sectors of the economy.

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Godwin Ibe

Medical Doctor (GP), IT professional, Web Designer, CELTA Certified Teacher of English, Economist and International Trade Marketer.
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