Lawyers for Human Rights
Lawyers for Human Rights

Five years on and no closer to solving xenophobic hatred

By Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh

May marks five years since the xenophobic attacks that shocked the nation. But what has happened since then? Are we better prepared to deal with criminality of that scale than we were five years ago? The simple answer is no.

South Africa — in its 19 year democratic history — had never before seen the scale and intensity of the 2008 xenophobic violence and displacement. It was because of this that the horror of the displacement caused us to pay attention. After initial attacks in the townships of Alexandra, Diepsloot and Tembisa during the first five days of the attacks, security forces were unable to prevent the spread of violence or halt the mushrooming attacks, loss of life and property. By the end more than 60 people had been killed in the violence.

After the South African Human Rights Commission’s investigation into the violence, a number of recommendations were made to government departments with the aim of developing mechanisms to reduce and prevent the kind of violence and attitudes that were seen during the 2008 attacks. Many of these recommendations have still not been operationalised. For example, a recommendation to the justice department to develop hate crimes legislation and support measures to institute it has been in the pipeline for many years without resolution.

The police — to an extent — have made some progress in working towards these recommendations. The visible policing unit has actively managed to quell threats and actual incidents of violence. These efforts are mainly focused in Gauteng and urban centres while the Eastern Cape, Free State and Limpopo continue to be areas in dire need of police intervention to prevent xenophobic attacks. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ xenophobia hotline, an average of 238 incidents a month are reported to the police. SAPS have displayed a success rate of 50% in preventing death, injury and loss of property through early intervention efforts.

In April this year alone, police were called in on numerous occasions to intervene and offer protection in xenophobic incidents. These are just a few of the reported cases in and around Pretoria:

April 24 in Soshanguve: SAPS members successfully assisted Somali shop keepers in resisting an attack and protected the stock in their shops;

April 20 in Garankuwa: SAPS were slow to respond and despite repeated calls for assistance from affected foreign nationals, police only arrived after more than half their stock was looted and one of the victims had been shot and attacked;

April 13 in Mamelodi East: A Somali man was shot in a seemingly targeted attack on foreign-owned shops;

April 1 in Delmas extension 3:
Ten refugee shops were looted. Despite calls for police assistance and gun shots being fired by unknown people, police were absent and unable to provide protection;

April 10 in Sasolburg: Following an early warning notification, SAPS were present during and after a march organised by the ANC Youth League. Crowds of up to 3 000 people were managed by the police and order was successfully maintained. Refugees were warned and had closed their shops and removed their stock in anticipation of possible looting and attacks.

These kinds of incidents have become “normal” and very rarely attract any media attention. As a result it appears as if the situation is under control but nothing could be further from the truth. Similar incidents are reported on a daily basis and while segments of the police are working to protect foreign nationals who may be targets of xenophobic hatred, there are also officers who act unlawfully and for their own financial gain as was noted in the recent arrest of a woman who was impersonating an officer in Johannesburg and allegedly soliciting money from foreigners. In worst-case scenarios, scenes of a Mozambican taxi driver being dragged behind a police bakkie show just how fragile this protection may be.

SAPS, however, cannot be the sole government department to take responsibility for combating xenophobia. The National Prosecution Agency and justice department have not publicised their statistics on investigations and prosecutions arising from xenophobia-related crimes. This would be a strong deterrent to any groups planning raids and attacks on foreign nationals.

We are not seeing strong enough sanctions and penalties for those perpetrating criminality against foreigners. Neither the government, nor the ruling party have taken the lead on tackling xenophobia. Instead the ANC has tabled policy limiting the rights of foreigners to work and home affairs is making plans to move refugee processing to border regions away from urban centres thereby creating the danger of shanty towns developing along our borders while still offering little to combat xenophobic attitudes within our communities.

Where this leaves us is that groups like the Greater Gauteng Business Forum and their ilk perceive their strategies to evict foreigners from local communities as being quite successful. This weak response to policing and targeting of hate crimes allows criminality to fester and offers little protection to victims of hate crimes. The “go home or die here” attitude should have no place in this country. This was never the intention of our Constitution and has the effect of watering down our respect for human dignity and our democracy.

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh heads LHR’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme.

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    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Black South Africans don’t want to be colonised even by other Africans; just like White South Africans did not want to be colonised by either Anglo American Randlords or Nazi Germans.And neither White nor Black want to be colonised by Indians or Arabs or Chinese either.

      What is more this anti-immigrant migration lobby is growing everywhere, including in Europe, America, and Britain.

    • Ireland

      Xenophobia -basic survival instinct, hard wired from Stone Age or earlier.
      Racism is a subset of xenophobia.

    • Comrade Koos

      Why worry about xenophobia? Stopping it does not do anything to garner votes to keep the ruling party’s two thirds majority. Keeping that two thirds majority is what counts (its vitally important), you can push through legislation to prevent corrupt leaders from being prosecuted using Secrecy Bills etc.

      Xenophobia – Are we surprised with role models like Jacob Zuma singing “Bring me my machine gun” while sucking up to the Gupta’s from India. That makes South Africans feel really proud, secure, comfortable and special.

      And dear old Julius Malema singing “Kill the Boer”, that’s really conciliatory isn’t it?

      Then 13 of our soldiers get killed in the CAR by rebels after we were warned to get out. And Zambian vice president says South Africa is not liked, then our local people have to compete for jobs against people from across the borders who are prepared to work far harder.

      At Marikana our own workers get gunned down by our own police. People who suffered under apartheid are not getting basic service delivery.

      I mean, “feel the love”.

      We need to sort out many things before South Africans will not look around for someone to blame.

      Blame the foreigners (not the ANC government) for our 22% unemployment when you are really hungry and only have a shack to live in, it makes sense.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      The only countries not suffering the growth of anti- immigrant xenophobia are those with strong border controls and immigration laws which have been in place for decades – like America, the Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

    • http://iafrica marty

      According to the anc – there is no xenophobia or genocide in SA?

    • Feel the Love

      1) A Short Illustrated History of Xenophobia in the United States

      2) Muslims face most racism in Sweden

      3) Xenophobia and Intolerance in Islamic Saudia Arabia,

      4) Australia is a xenophobic nation

      5) A recent study suggests that xenophobia is strong in Norway.

      6) Switzerland Faulted For Racism and Xenophobia

      Right wing wing-nuts think strict border controls eliminate xenophobia. Ask the Republican Party/Tea Party in the United States. Its political rhetoric to win votes, nothing else.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Xenophobia is nothing to do with racism, the modern myth. Xenophobia is not wanting your culture, whatever it is, overwhelmed by an influx of another culture.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Africa’s citizens are all fleeing their tribal kleptocratic leaders. In North Africa they desperately try to get to Europe. In the rest of Africa they just migrate to South Africa and the ANC’s “open borders”. How the ANC expects the few million SA taxpayers to house, feed, and support them all, no-one knows, nor how all this is supposed to be the fault of Whites or “Apartheid”.

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      ANC ministers and bigwigs are continually telling us on radio “America is a land of Immigrants”, supposedly to encourage our open borders to this flood of African immigrants. Actually the true history of America is:

      A few hundred Whites from Europe established colonies in America – all of them White and Christian. They then brought in more of their own – millions more White Christians. They killed off the Native non- Whites and non- Christians. When there were enough of them they closed their borders to any more immigrants, including White Christians. America has had strong border control and restriction of immigration since before the First World War.

      The only different group were the Black Slaves – and the two groups have never really merged and are still fighting all the time. Why would we even want to copy America?

    • Habiballah

      @ Comrade Koos , I dont think foreign nationals in SA benefit from any created jobs, They create job for themselves and for others.
      A simple example all grocery products made in SA are distributed nation wide in location and town ships at a reasonable price by foreign traders till your door, increasing production and growth, therefor crating jobs for others, please look at the picture at wide range.

    • Feel the Love

      Wikipedia on xenophobia:

      “Xenophobia is an irrational or unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange.[1][2] It comes from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), meaning “stranger,” “foreigner,” and φόβος (phobos), meaning “fear.”[3]

      Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity.[4] Xenophobia can also be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”.[5] Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action urges all governments to take immediate measures and to develop strong policies to prevent and combat all forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia or related intolerance, where necessary by enactment of appropriate legislation including penal measure…..”

    • http://none Lyndall Beddy

      Feel the Love

      Xenophobia, or any fear, is only irrational if there is nothing real to fear. It is, for example, not a persecution complex if you ARE being persecuted!

    • Truth be known


      Nonsense, you misread what was said. Irrational or unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange leads to others (the victims) being persecuted.