March 6, 2017 (170306)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"In the post-apartheid South Africa, resurgence of xenophobic
violence is a symptom of the deep leadership deficit. For the fourth
consecutive week now, South Africa is witnessing what many analysts
call a "resurgence" of xenophobic violence in parts of Johannesburg
and Pretoria, the country's capital city. The reality is that this
type of violence is a daily occurrence in the country, although it
does not always get media attention. It has, in fact, become a longstanding
feature in post-apartheid South Africa." - Jean Pierre
Misago, African Centre for Migration and Society, Johannesburg
South Africa is not unique in seeing a "resurgence" of antiimmigrant
violence this year. As in many other countries, notably
the United States and many European countries, this trend draws on
widespread prejudice among substantial sectors of citizens against
immigrants seen as criminal and job-takers. But it is also driven by
official state policy which employs its own official bureaucratic
violence, by the "leadership deficit" cited by Misago, and by even
more massive and multifaceted anti-immigrant campaigns such as that
currently being mobilized by the new U.S. administration.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three short articles with news
and analysis of the most recent events in South Africa, as well as
links to other sources for deeper analysis.
Additional short articles and reports of related interest, including
reactions from other African countries:
And for contemporary US parallels, see Anand Giridharadas, "A Murder
in Trump's America," The Atlantic, February 28, 2017, at
On murders of immigrants, including the most recent shooting in
Holland Carter, "For Migrants Headed North, the Things They Carried
to the End," New York Times, March 3, 2017
Art exhibit on deadly results of U.S. immigration policy in desert
on Mexican border, from Clinton through Obama
Emily Bazelon, "Department of Justification," New York Times
Magazine, February 28, 2017
On the anti-immigrant agenda of Jeff Sessions, Stephen Bannon, and
Donald Trump. http://tinyurl.com/jxsb4af
[Jean Pierre Misago is a researcher with the African Centre for
Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, South
[Text only. Original at link above contains additional links to many
In the post-apartheid South Africa, resurgence of xenophobic
violence is a symptom of the deep leadership deficit.
For the fourth consecutive week now, South Africa is witnessing what
many analysts call a "resurgence" of xenophobic violence in parts of
Johannesburg and Pretoria, the country's capital city.
The reality is that this type of violence is a daily occurrence in
the country, although it does not always get media attention. It
has, in fact, become a long-standing feature in post-apartheid South
Since 1994, tens of thousands of people have been harassed, attacked
or killed because of their status as outsiders or foreign nationals.
Despite claims to the contrary by the government, violence against
foreign nationals in South Africa did not end in June 2008 when the
massive outbreak that started a month earlier subsided.
As the current incidents illustrate, hostility towards foreign
nationals is still pervasive in the country and continues to result
in more cases of murder, injuries, threats of mob violence, looting
and the destruction of residential property and businesses, as well
as mass displacement.
And yes, the violence is xenophobic (and not "just crime", as many
in government prefer labelling it) because it is - as the scholar
Belinda Dodson reminds us - "an explicit targeting of foreign
nationals or outsiders for violent attacks despite other material,
political, cultural or social forces that might be at play".
It is a hate crime whose logic goes beyond the often accompanying
and misleading criminal opportunism. The real motive of the
violence, as unambiguously expressed by the perpetrators themselves,
is to drive foreign populations out of communities.
Xenophobic violence as a symptom of leadership deficit
A quick analytical look reveals that the drivers of ongoing
xenophobic violence in South Africa, as well as the lack of
effective response and preventive interventions, reflect a dreadful
lack of competent, decisive and trusted leadership at all levels of
The drivers of xenophobic violence in South Africa are inevitably
multiple and embedded in a complex interplay of the country's past
and present structural - political, social and economic - factors.
Chief among underlying causal factors is obviously the prevailing
anti-immigrant sentiment easily fuelled by political scapegoating.
Political leaders and officials of the national, provincial and
local government often blame foreign nationals for their systemic
failures to deliver on the political promises and satisfy the
citizenry's growing expectations.
Due to political scapegoating, many South African citizens perceive
foreign nationals as a serious threat that needs to be eliminated by
any means necessary. This perception is stronger among the majority
of citizens living in poor townships and informal settlements where
they meet and fiercely compete with equally poor African immigrants
for scarce resources and opportunities.
The result is that local residents in these areas have become
increasingly convinced that foreign nationals are to blame for all
their socioeconomic ills and hardships including poverty,
unemployment, poor service delivery, lack of business space and
opportunities; crime; prostitution; drug and alcohol abuse; and
By blaming foreign nationals for its failures to deliver on its core
functions and responsibilities, the South African government is
unfortunately displaying an obvious if sorry sign of weak and
The triggers of the violence paint an even more worrying picture of
the leadership deficit in the "rainbow" nation. Indeed, the strong
anti-immigrant sentiment alone cannot explain the occurrence of
violence in some areas and not in others where such negative
attitudes are equally strong.
Attitudes are not always a good predictor of behaviour. Rather ample
research evidence indicates that the triggers of the violence are
located in the "micropolitics" at play in many of country's towns
townships and informal settlements.
Instigators and perpetrators of xenophobic violence are well known
in their respective communities, but the de facto impunity they
enjoy only means that they are likely - as they have in many cases -
to strike again.
Violent attacks on foreign nationals are usually triggered by
political mobilisation led by local economic and/or political
players and informal community leadership groups (in the form of
civic organisations, community policing forums, business
associations, concerned residents' associations, etc) for their
economic and political interests.
This violence is essentially "politics by other means". It has
proved a useful tool for these local politicians to consolidate
their power and community leadership monopoly needed to expand their
client base and the economic revenues it represents.
These "violence entrepreneurs" capitalise on people's sentiments and
frustrations and have no difficulty co-opting local residents for
participation in the violence given the pervasive negative
attitudes. Xenophobic violence is triggered by the mobilisation of
the existing collective discontent.
With denialism and impunity, violence continues
It is common knowledge that the official South African government's
response to xenophobia and related violence has been characterised
Such denialism is rooted in a discourse which labels all xenophobic
violence as "just crime and not xenophobia", a categorisation that
demands few specific and sustained interventions or policy changes.
Both President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba
repeated the popular if infamous refrain this week.
Perhaps understandably, admitting the existence of a xenophobic
citizenry is both ideologically and politically uncomfortable for
the ruling African National Congress, which is now the custodian of
the multiracial, multi-ethnic "rainbow" nation and sees itself as
the champion of human rights and unity in diversity.
In addition to the lack of effective policy response, the government
unwillingness to recognise xenophobia coupled with a general weak
judicial system has also led to an alarming culture of impunity and
lack of accountability for perpetrators and mandated institutions:
foreign nationals have been repeatedly attacked in South Africa
since 1994 but few perpetrators have been charged, even fewer
convicted. In some instances, state agents have actively protected
those accused of anti-foreigner violence.
Similarly, there have been no efforts to hold mandated institutions
such as the police and the intelligence community accountable for
their failure to prevent and stop violence despite visible warning
As an example, government promises to set up special courts to
enable quick prosecutions after the 2008 and 2015 violence never
Instigators and perpetrators of xenophobic violence are well known
in their respective communities, but the de facto impunity they
enjoy only means that they are likely - as they have in many cases -
to strike again.
Unfortunately, the government's unwillingness to acknowledge that
this violence is xenophobic and its failure to work on finding
appropriate solutions are a sign of ineffective leadership. Without
appropriate intervention violence will continue.
Black lives don't matter in xenophobic South Africa
Redi Tlhabi is a radio and television journalist from Johannesburg.
Last week was an ugly, humiliating one for South Africa; a country
once considered a jewel of democracy on the African continent has
been gripped by a wave of xenophobic violence. In a matter of days,
more than 30 stores belonging to foreign nationals were shut down
after intense attacks and looting by locals in several townships. We
are breathing a sigh of relief that there has been no loss of life.
This is not the first time that foreigners have faced attacks in
South Africa's townships and provinces. In 2008, the country's
streets were ablaze, literally, with violence against foreigners.
Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, a national from Mozambique, was beaten,
stabbed and set on fire in broad daylight. A police officer tried in
vain to douse the flames, but it was too late. Nhamuave died. And
there has been no justice for him. Sixty-two people, including South
Africans, were killed at that time and more than 100,000 were
displaced. Last year, more than 20 shops were looted in one area
alone, and foreign nationals had to flee their homes.
On Friday, with the government's endorsement, citizens from
Pretoria, the capital, marched against foreign nationals in an antiimmigrant
protest. The government said that the march was an
agitation against crime in South Africa, which has been endemic in
this society for many years. Yet the protesters did not march to
police headquarters; instead they went to the Home Affairs office,
which is in charge of immigration in the country.
The xenophobic violence tends to have a racial element. Nigerians,
Somalis, Malawians, Pakistanis and Zimbabweans are often the targets
of this prejudice. Perhaps it reflects the complex truth about South
Africa's xenophobia that it is never just a rejection of a
different identity but also a lament for the economic exclusion
experienced by black South Africans, or all black Africans, for that
matter. The acts of violence are specifically targeted at African
and Asian migrants. White migrants are safe. They own businesses and
property and generally go about their lives peacefully. They are
seen as providers of work and capital, but black ones are seen as
encroachments and threats. They are from the margins of our society,
and even the language used to describe them illegal immigrants,
illegal aliens, outsiders creates an "us and them" dynamic. They
are dirty, they are criminals, they are drug peddlers common
accusations that are articulated boldly on radio and television.
It is surreal as we watch how here and in the United States, black
lives really don't matter. Even in a majority black country, the
government is not decisive or unequivocal in its condemnation,
choosing instead to obfuscate and sanitize this xenophobia by
calling it something else, such as "criminal acts." These are hate
crimes, no different from the killing of Indian engineer Srinivas
Kuchibhotla in the United States. The suspect reportedly asked him
and a companion whether they had valid visas and shouted that they
should "get out of my country." This sounds so familiar. Migrants in
South Africa are constantly told to "go back home." We have not
experienced random shootings by citizens, but rather a wellorchestrated,
mass uprising by multitudes. And in this way,
individuals escape personal responsibility for hate crimes.
Nelson Mandela, the founding father of our democracy, said: "South
Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will
reinforce humanity's belief in justice. Never, never and never
again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the
oppression of one by another."
We have failed. According to the Migration Policy Institute, South
Africa displays one of the highest levels of xenophobia in the
world. In the past decade, foreigners have been blamed for every
malaise under the sun "They are stealing our jobs," "committing
crimes" and, of course, "taking our women." High levels of
unemployment especially youth unemployment, which averaged 51
percent between 2013 and 2016 creates a fertile environment for
foreign workers to be scapegoats, despite the fact that foreign-born
migrants make up only 1.6 million of South Africa's population of
about 55 million.
South Africans must remember the sagacity and generosity extended to
us in our time of need. African countries took on South Africa's
liberation movements when they were banned by apartheid. They
provided a home and education for their families. Some of these
governments provided financial help to the party that is in
government in South Africa today. I am hoping that the divisions
that colonialism and racism tried to engineer in our psyche will not
prevail. I am hoping that citizens who endeavor to make their
countries "great again" will not do so at the expense of basic
decency and justice.
South Africans have a certain reputation for public robustness. We
fight, scream, and shout at each other, all in the name of deciding
what would make for a better country. At times, though, this
robustness threatens to derail us at a time when many people could
be vulnerable to serious harm. On Friday in Pretoria, violence broke
out during a march planned by people who were "opposed to illegal
immigrants". The police struggled to maintain order. And instead of
speaking with one voice, everyone in a leadership position was busy
pointing fingers, particularly at Joburg Mayor Herman Mashaba.
There was plenty of notice that xenophobic violence was coming. In
stark contrast to the violence that claimed nearly 60 lives in 2008,
and the awfulness that marked the violence in KwaZulu-Natal two
years ago, last week we knew that a group of people in Mamelodi were
going to march against the presence of foreign nationals in their
community. They said that it was a march against crime, but when
pushed on their motives it became clear that the real issue was
simply that they did not like people who were not like them.
When the marching and the clashes started on Friday, the police
immediately moved to contain the protests. A group of Somali men
grouped together, partly perhaps for protection, partly perhaps to
cause their own violence. This was the kind of thing that only leads
to trouble. One of the oldest insults among human beings can be
boiled down to this: He is a foreigner, and therefore a barbarian.
And it is also universal among societies everywhere; when people
feel their lives are getting worse and hopeless, they will turn on
people they see as different, or somehow not being "like them".
Situations like these need cool heads, and plenty of disciplined
force from the police. But a problem of this kind also needs
On Friday morning, the ANC released a statement about the xenophobic
violence, essentially calling for calm. But by the third paragraph
of the statement, it was already attacking Johannesburg Mayor Herman
Mashaba, saying he should be "singled out for particular mention",
and attempting to blame him for the violence. They claimed further
that "it was the reckless statements of Mayor Mashaba that lit the
tinderbox of hatred in the first place".
Where the ANC is absolutely correct is to criticise Mashaba for his
words and actions on this issue in the last few months. His comments
about "illegal immigrants", and his almost wilful and deliberate
conflation of the words "immigrants" and "criminals", was wrong,
perhaps bordering on the criminal. As a public representative, he
should be ashamed of himself, and the DA should be ashamed of itself
for not smacking him down in public. His comments in this regard are
surely against everything the DA claims to stand for.
It is hard to know why Mashaba made them in the first place. Maybe
he genuinely believes there is a problem and that it needs to be
addressed. Perhaps he feels that it's a way to get votes. As the US
and other places have recently demonstrated again, being "antiimmigrant"
can play successfully to prejudice. Or he could just be
prejudiced himself, like so many other South Africans, and people
all over the world.
But to say that he is responsible is to utterly miss the greater
context of what is happening in South Africa these days. And, worse,
it is to forget the role the ANC government played over the last few
Last week, before the march, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba
held a press conference specifically about the xenophobic tensions.
He said he had met with the organisers of the march, and had pleaded
with them to act responsibly. It was the kind of act that you would
expect someone in his position to do; it was the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, his department could also be accused of playing a
role in demonising foreign nationals in the first place. It is his
officials who deport people, and decide which foreign nationals get
to stay and which get to be kicked out. And, depending on where you
stand on these things, it is also his department that has largely
failed to deal with the problem. The perception has grown that
people who are foreign are here illegally, because government has
failed to stop them from being here.
But it is not only Gigaba's fault. It is impossible to police this
properly, the dynamics of economics, geography and the human nature
to desire a better life for yourself and your children are all
against him. With the best will in the world, Gigaba is going to be
unable to change those perceptions, or even make much of a
difference on the ground. Stopping human migration requires the kind
of a control over a population that North Korea has. Anything less
will just not work.
Gigaba himself has a fairly decent track record in this regard. He
at least is not afraid to call xenophobia what it is, and to label a
xenophobic march a xenophobic march. His political boss, President
Jacob Zuma, appears unable to do even that, claiming on Friday that
there were even foreign nationals in these marches, because they
were actually "anti-crime". Proof, once again, that it's not only
the facts that are alternative, sometimes it's the entire universe.
Gigaba once did something that very few other ministers have done on
this issue. He raised the ire of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. In
2015 Zwelithini had been accused of making comments that were seen
as an incitement to commit violence against foreign nationals. A few
days later, violence did in fact erupt in KwaZulu-Natal. Gigaba made
a comment that leaders should behave responsibly, which appeared to
have angered the king.
In the end, the SA Human Rights Commission decided, controversially,
to exonerate Zwelithini. And the ANC, certainly in public, has
failed to publicly criticise the king for these comments. Which
surely suggests they do not believe that there is a link between
what he said and the violence that followed.
It is important to follow this logic through to the bitter end. If
the Zulu king makes comments like this and does not incite violence
against foreign nationals, while the mayor of Joburg makes similar
comments and does incite violence, then who has more power? Is the
ANC seriously suggesting that Herman Mashaba, as a DA mayor, has a
greater moral authority and plain old influence over people in
Tshwane than King Goodwill Zwelithini does in KZN? And if that is
the case, it surely follows then that the ANC is actually in much
greater political trouble than we thought.
In politics, it is usually a mistake to build your enemy up, to make
them look powerful. In their haste to be seen to condemn Mashaba,
that is exactly what the ANC is doing. It made him look powerful, as
if he had the ability to shape events, that he has this magical
authority over people. Who, for the record, weren't even in "his"
city, but in Pretoria.
But what is also being forgotten here is the other actions of
national government. As the CEO of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation,
Neeshan Balton, pointed out on Friday, it was national government
that decided to roll out "Operation Fiela", whose aim was action
against foreign nationals. And it is national government alone that
controls the police. And thus the officers who are famous for
rounding up foreign nationals and stealing cash from them. It's not
about what you say as a leader, it's also about what you do. Our
government has failed to do much to change attitudes, to present any
kind of example.
Mashaba himself said, in a statement issued on Monday, that he had
tried to set up several meetings with Gigaba to discuss this entire
issue, and invited him to a city lekgotla on the issue. Mashaba says
he declined that invitation. But it would appear Gigaba is happy to
discuss the issue, just not with Joburg's DA mayor. Rather,
according to Mashaba, he has accepted an invitation to speak at an
event hosted by the Joburg ANC, and its leader, and former Joburg
mayor Parks Tau.
No matter how you look at it, that is playing politics in times when
the national government should know better.
To look at this situation from a neutral standpoint, should such a
place exist, is to realise that everyone is at fault here. Mashaba
should not have said what he said. The ANC national government has
not provided an example of how to treat foreign nationals, despite
often saying the right words. People of influence who say things
that are xenophobic are let off the hook.
Very few of the people who call themselves leaders in our society
can escape blame here. And if any of them think that they can blame
someone else, it's time they took a look in the mirror. DM
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