Despite its rebranding as the “Rainbow Nation of Diversity” after the end of the segregationist apartheid regime in 1994, South Africa is still home to prejudice, hate and violence. These five facts about xenophobia in South Africa show that it is creating violence in the country, disrupting communities of refugees and other migrants. Hopefully, the government’s new action plan will help to change the sentiments of those involved in crimes against foreigners.
Foreigners in South Africa
Foreigners and migrants make up roughly 2.8 percent of South Africa’s population. The vast majority of foreign-born residents are from other African countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Lesotho. After the fall of apartheid, South Africa’s economy grew quickly. Job opportunities and relative political stability turned the country into an attractive location for many African immigrants fleeing conflict, poverty or political turmoil.
Over the past few decades, xenophobic violence against many of these immigrants in South Africa has become a common occurrence. These attacks, targeted at immigrant-owned businesses and homes, foreign nationals and refugees in South Africa. They are robbing them of their livelihoods and causing poverty and distress. Here are five facts about xenophobia in South Africa.
5 Facts about Xenophobia in South Africa
- Many South African citizens harbor negative attitudes toward foreigners due to fears about resource-scarcity. A survey by the Southern African Migration Project found that two-thirds of South Africans believe that African foreigners strain basic services. At least 29 percent of South Africans would like the government to prohibit immigration completely, citing crime, disease and job-stealing as justification.
- South Africa has a history of violent xenophobic attacks that devastate immigrant communities, divide families and cause a loss of homes and businesses. There have been attacks on foreign nationals since 2009. Foreign-owned businesses were being targeted, looted and burned. The attacks have provoked violent, nation-wide campaigns against foreigners, displacing, injuring and killing thousands. Outbreaks of violence since then, as recent as April of this year, reflect widespread anti-foreign attitudes in the country. On March 28, 2019, armed mobs of South Africans killed six foreign nationals and injured others in the city of Durban. The mob broke into the homes of foreigners and stole their belongings. Similar violent attacks have been reported in 2019. Many of the xenophobic attacks specifically targeted black foreigners, often stereotyping them as criminals, drug dealers and generally unsavory, untrustworthy individuals.
- Social media and political leadership may be contributing to xenophobia in South Africa. Prominent politicians, like current President Cyril Ramaphosa, have denied the existence of xenophobia. However, they relied on negative attitudes toward foreigners to drum up political support. In early 2019, Ramaphosa encouraged anti-foreign anger at a political rally by vowing to crack down on illegal migrants who enter their “townships and rural areas and set up businesses without licenses and permits.” However, the South African president recently tried to clarify this statement, condemning violent acts against foreigners and promising to protect South Africa’s immigrants. Analysts have warned against using xenophobia as a political weapon. One scholar argues that xenophobia is strengthened and sustained by the “failure of politicians, policymakers, media [and] intellectuals to problematize assumptions of similarity and differences and preconceptions of peoples and cultures.” Some argue that these assumptions produce inequalities and violence by enforcing narrow and exclusionary ideas of national identity.
- Several organizations are involved in the fight against xenophobia in South Africa. Lawyers for Human Rights has been working with vulnerable populations in South Africa for more than 35 years. It provides free legal services to both South Africans and foreign-born residents. The organization participated in the People’s March against Xenophobia in 2015. The African Diaspora Forum provides support to foreign nationals in South Africa by encouraging dialogue among South African-born citizens and immigrants in order to build trust and understanding. It also functions as a watch-dog organization, challenging xenophobic statements made by public officials and working to tear down discriminatory public policies.
- In March 2019, the South African government launched a National Action Plan to address xenophobic violence and other injustices in the country. The project aims to raise awareness of the issue of xenophobia in South Africa. It hopes to increase anti-discrimination efforts like protection for victims and legal counsel. However, skeptics accused the plan of missing a key part of the problem; the program has no plan to hold accountable those who have committed acts of xenophobic violence.
Xenophobia in South Africa is perpetuating violence and poverty. Many scholars and human rights activists agree that the government should be increasing its efforts to reduce xenophobia in South Africa to protect the physical and economic safety of all of its residents.
– Nicollet Laframboise