SPECIAL REPORT: Yet another Xenophobic attack in the Rainbow country



By – Nontokozo Mhlongo

There is fire on the mountain. The streets of Gauteng, South Africa are literally on fire. Now here is the narrative on what has been going on.

Three people were arrested when homes belonging to Nigerian nationals were set alight in Pretoria West. Six houses that the community had previously reported to the police as suspected to belonging to drug dealers were burnt down. The police managed to arrest three people.
Police said at least 20 shops possibly belonging to immigrants were also looted in Pretoria but they could not confirm if the attacks had deliberately targeted foreigners.
Meanwhile in a Johannesburg suburb, residents also went on an angry rampage. Rosettenville residents set fire to brothels, taverns and two houses believed to be used for drug trafficking and prostitution.

Are these attacks xenophobia, vigilantism, pure frustration or all of the above? Whatever may be the case, there is no justification for violence.

In all of this, it seems Nigerians are the ones who are at the receiving end of this anger. President of the Nigeria Union South Africa (NUSA) Ike Anyaene says that criminals are taking advantage of genuine grievances by South Africans to carry out xenophobic attacks on foreigners.

“The people of South Africa are just tired and want solutions and a change…and one of the driving forces of this anger is because of poverty and unemployment. Now a few people are taking advantage of serious grievances and attacking Nigerians. We were in Pretoria West and found that legitimate businesses were looted and good Nigerian people’s houses were burnt. These were criminals taking charge of and hijacking the people’s plight in the name of xenophobia.”

There are legitimate concerns regarding the heightened level of crime in South Africa but it should not just be directed at one nationality. And to address this misconception, not every crime committed in South Africa is done by a Nigerian or an illegal immigrant.

Personally I’ve been a victim of about five crimes and on four of those occasions the perpetrators were South Africans. Crime has no colour, no race or nationality and should not be tolerated regardless of where you come from.
There are residents who say they are taking the law into their hands because the police do nothing when those who are living illegally in South Africa sometimes commit crimes are brought to the police attention. When the perpetrators are reported by the communities the next day they are out. This appears to be the pattern.

To the people reporting these crimes this means that the police are working hand in hand with the criminals. Now, the corruption within the police department is so organized and major that even those who do their jobs are swallowed up by the mess. And then you have the foreigners who do not also trust the police under whose watch all these atrocities are committed and encouraged.

Anyaene says that NUSA has approached the South African police on numerous occasions to discuss possible and lasting solutions to the attacks. “We have approached the police and there have been many meetings with all stakeholders to ensure that there is no bloodshed.”

While NUSA is working with some South African organizations to stand and fight against xenophobia, and several Nigerians have met with senior South African officials that include the like of the resident high commissioner, to protest these attacks, Anyaene said that it was important for the Nigerian government and its South African counterpart to work on finding a lasting solution.

There appears to be growing frustration not only with the police department but also the South African Home Affairs which is to blame for the high number of illegal immigrants. According to Anyaene, foreigners also feel that the Home Affairs system is ineffective.

Responding to this, the Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba held a media briefing and promised that to provide better service to foreign nationals while at the same time working on South African’s concerns.
Some of these concerns are that foreigners are taking over shops and jobs. Gigaba said businesses could help address some of the challenges facing communities; adding that they should not fuel the tensions by playing locals against foreigners. He said businesses that employ illegal immigrants will be dealt with and their managers arrested for not adhering to the law.

South African labour laws require businesses to employ a minimum of 60 per cent South Africans. Gigaba made an example of a large supermarket group that had employed 63 people without documentation.

The minister said government was working with the police to ensure order, but there are those who do not feel convinced, and it is because of this that a group called the Mamelodi Concerned Residents (MCR) planned a march to the Department of Home Affairs headquarters.

While pictures of what happened stares us in the face, the real issues that inspire these attacks continue to beg for answers. South Africa has a population of about 55 million, nearly 6 million of which are immigrants; a good percentage of which take up jobs that normally would have gone to South Africa’s unemployed. This issue must be addressed by the South African government.
A lasting solution can be found; even as I remain hopeful that from where I sit South Africans and foreigners can live peacefully side by side. MA