Xenophobia has resurfaced in South Africa with fellow African nationals being subjected to different forms of violence for allegedly causing the high unemployment rate in the country.
South Africans recently attacked foreigners for the umpteenth time killing three in Durban amid protests targeting foreign-owned shops. The protesters, about 100, looted and burned buildings last week forcing about 50 people to seek shelter at a police station and in a mosque.
According to the BBC, one woman died when she fell through a roof while she was running away from protesters and the other two people died from gunshot wounds allegedly inflicted by a shopkeeper.
They are a few of many victims of xenophobia against black Africans which has plagued the country since the end of the racist apartheid era that saw white South Africans perpetrate racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against black people.
The immigrants normally targeted are from Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and other neighbouring countries who are accused of taking all the jobs and engaging in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and theft.
Some South Africans including high-profile members of the government have justified taking measures against the growing number of foreigners who they believe would soon take over the country if nothing is done.
“The whole of South Africa could be 80% dominated by foreign nationals and the future president of South Africa could be a foreign national… How can a city in South Africa be 80% foreign nationals? That is dangerous,” said the Deputy Minister of Police, Bongani Michael Mkongi in 2017.
He made the statement during a visit to a local police station where he accused foreign nationals in Hillbrow of economic sabotage. He also accused them of being behind the high crime rate, using unlicensed firearms, hijacking buildings and illegal trade.
“South Africans have surrendered their own city to the foreigners… We fought for this country, not only for us but for generations of South Africans to live in harmony in a non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa,” he added.
However, immigrants in South Africa are actively contributing to the growth of the South African economy by engaging in and creating businesses while paying value-added tax which is generating revenue for the country.
This was contained in a damning report released in 2017 by the South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR), following weeks of xenophobic attacks that year.
The current violence has thrown Africa into a delirium as the continent is fostering integration and unity. South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa called on South Africans to embrace tolerance and oust xenophobia because it has no place among South Africans.
“These recent relapses are wrong, they violate everything that our people fought for over many decades. As for me, I condemn them in the strongest terms, because this is not us,” he said on Saturday.
“They stood side by side with us as we were engaged in struggle. They supported us willingly in a comradely manner, supported us because they felt that racism and apartheid was an abomination against humanity,” he reminded South Africans of efforts of other African nations to ensure the liberation of the country from the apartheid regime.
The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema has also condemned the attacks calling on South Africans to know their history and protect fellow Africans.
“These borders here were never designed by Africans. They were imposed on us by colonialists… Women are abused by their immediate and well-known people to them. Women are not abused by Nigerians,” he said at a recent campaign rally in the Eastern Cape.
“The whole of Africa was there for us when we were in difficult times. They gave us guns, they gave us their houses. Know your history… We are for Africa, Africa is not a continent… We are for Africans. African unity is what will make us to be proud. Stop the self-hate,” he added.
South Africa’s minister of international relations and co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu, urged the police to take action against people attacking foreigners.
“All criminal activities and looting of properties of foreign nationals will not be tolerated‚ and the police and other law-enforcement agencies must act without fear or favour,” she said in a statement.
The attacks have triggered varied reactions from social media users. Many people have condemned it while others seem to not be against the violence.
Some have called for sanctions against South Africa by asking governments of other African countries to close down South African embassies in their respective countries.
Xenophobic attacks in South Africa are not new. As far back as 1994, about 4 years after South Africa gained independence from the apartheid regime with the assistance of other African countries, foreign nationals in provinces such as Gauteng, Western Cape, Limpopo, Kwazulu Natal and the Free State experienced xenophobic attacks.
In December 1994 and January 1995, armed youth from Alexandria destroyed the homes and businesses of foreigners in Gauteng Province and also marched these foreigners to the police station demanding that they are forcibly removed from South Africa. They claimed the foreigners were the cause of the rise in crime, unemployment and the spread of AIDS.
There was a resurgence in the 2000s as more killing of foreigners were recorded. In 2000, 7 Xenophobic killings were reported. The victims included a Kenyan, two Nigerians and two Angolans.
Similar attacks re-emerged in 2008, which is said to be the most violent of all attacks. It recorded 56 deaths and 342 shops were looted and 213 were burnt down.
Will these senseless attacks ever end? What is the state doing wrong to avert this crime against fellow African nationals whose presence in the country epitomizes the dream of a united Africa?