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South Africa’s xenophobia problems result of leadership failure

October 11th, 2019
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi
tags:South Africa, xenophobia

In early September, 12 people were killed in South Africa after mobs of locals went on a rampage, targeting foreign-owned businesses in the latest wave of xenophobic violence that spread across three cities.

The attacks drew condemnation from across the African continent and resulted in some reprisal attacks abroad. Nigeria started evacuating some of its citizens, recalled its high commissioner, and from South Africa and – together with Zambia, Malawi and Rwanda – went on to boycott the World Economic Forum on Africa summit in Cape Town.

Unlike in the past, this time around the South African government moved quickly to defuse the attacks, profusely apologising to the continent that had started calling for economic sanctions to be imposed on Africa’s second largest economy for its alleged failure to protect her migrant community.

The latest round of xenophobic attacks – seen as Afrophobia as they only target citizens from other African countries – brought to the fore questions about this recurrent social evil that makes South Africa a dangerous place for foreigners from other African countries.

While the African continent was unanimous in its condemnation of the xenophobic attacks, the same is however not true when it comes to finding permanent solutions to this problem. If anything, when it comes to the search for solutions, the issue becomes South Africa’s problem alone.

Just like others cases of xenophobic confrontations, South African attacks are supported by the belief that foreigners— both documented and undocumented – are to blame for the country’s social and economic woes. The violence is the response of frustrated South Africans to the increasing numbers of other Africans as the flee from economic and political crises in their own countries.

While condemning the xenophobic attacks in the strongest terms, former South African first lady, Graça Machel, said Africa as a whole should contribute to bringing an end to this menace by ensuring that their countries are hospitable for all their citizens. The deputy chair of The Elders – an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights – observed that most African countries do not have democracy and economies that work, which explains why there are more than four million people in South Africa who can’t live in their own countries of origin.

“When we clearly see that democracy is not working, that a handful of people impose the result they want when millions of people have voted for the opposite, and we all keep quiet – and we did all keep quiet – who has the responsibility for things which are happening to democracy in Southern and Central Africa? Who has the responsibility?” Machel, who also doubles up as former Mozambican first lady, asked delegates to a Democracy in Central and Southern Africa conference held in Cape Town.

New York Times journalist and filmmaker Hopewell Chin’ono agreed with Machel and blamed South Africa’s policy of hobnobbing with African dictators for contributing to the insecurities that end up forcing many Africans to seek political and economic refuge within its borders.

“Rigging elections kills the economy, and it leaves citizens desperate because no serious investor will put their money where there is a political crisis like what we currently have in Zimbabwe,” Chin’ono said.

He said it was South African political leaders that underpin the corrupt, incompetent and brutal regimes in the region, which regimes have put economic pressure on Zimbabweans and other regional citizens to flee home.

Dumisani Muleya, the editor of Zimbabwe’s respected privately owned weekly, The Independent, sees the problem facing South Africa as multi-faceted and complex. 
“We’re dealing with a volatile toxic mix of violence embedded in South African society… xenophobia, crime and criminality by locals and foreigners, illegal immigration and issues associated with it, competition for jobs, social service delivery, inequalities and poverty. It’s an eclectic mix of issues,” Muleya said.

He said that the push and pull factors that bring waves of immigrants into South Africa and the impact of that on the country are also linked to these issues.

“Broadly, there are also leadership, policy and governance failures both in South Africa and many other African countries that fuel all this. So you can’t address the problem through reductionist or simplistic explanations and answers, let alone violence. There are no easy answers here. People need to think deep and serious about what’s actually happening, have some nuanced understanding of issues, and deal with the root causes.” 

The problem of xenophobia is not unique to South Africa, as many African countries have grappled with this problem since 1960s.

In 1969 Ghana issued the Aliens Compliance Order, which resulted in more than three million foreigners, mainly citizens of Nigerian, Burkina Faso and Niger, being deported. This Ghanaian crusade was later retaliated in 1983 with the “Ghana-must-go” xenophobic and Afrophobic campaigns in which two millions Ghanaians (and other nationals) were deported from Nigeria. Before this, there had been regular outbreaks of xenophobic campaigns across Africa: Senegal expelled Guineans in 1967; Ivory Coast expelled Beninese in 1964; Sierra-Leone, and later Guinea and Ivory Coast, expelled Ghanaians in 1968. Earlier on, Ivory Coast had expelled Benin and Togo nationals in 1958; Chad expelled thousands of Benin nationals who were ‘illegal migrants’ and not ‘law abiding’. In early 1979 Togolese nationals expelled from Ghana and Ivory Coast.

In 2008 migrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo were brutally expelled by Angolan state agencies. In the Congo, West Africans were described as “ndingari” which means a “tick sucking blood from cattle”. They were also often described as “corrupt, lying, violent, criminal and dirty” to justify mass expulsion of foreigners. Other xenophobic expulsions have also taken place in Kenya, Uganda and Somalia.

According to an International Organization for Migration (IOM) report, many governments find it easy to blame their problems on foreigners. “Aliens are usually scapegoats when governments are confronted with teething economic and political problems; migrants are targets of hostility from the native population and are blamed for whatever economic, social and political problems arise in the country.”

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
The attacks drew condemnation from across the African continent and resulted in some reprisal attacks abroad.
Unlike in the past, this time around the South African government moved quickly to defuse the attacks, profusely apologising to the continent that had started calling for economic sanctions.
“When we clearly see that democracy is not working, that a handful of people impose the result they want when millions of people have voted for the opposite."
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