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South Africa: Politicians Scapegoating Immigrants
April 9, 2019 (190409)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
In what became a debate amongst a small group of residents [in
Alexandra], another resident Kabelo Tsotetsi, defended immigrants,
saying they were starting their own businesses and not taking jobs
from South Africans. Tsotetsi said: “Our government doesn’t make
it easy for foreigners to live here, they don’t get help. They
come from countries where they are severely oppressed and they
come here and face the same struggles as us. We are all Africans
fighting for our dignity.” - GroundUp, April 3, 2019
Such debates could undoubtedly be paralleled in many other
countries, in Africa and around the world. But whether the
tensions escalate to harassment or even violence depends in large
part on the actions of politicians and other community leaders.
Such political mobilization in South Africa, Jean Pierre Misago
found in an empirical survey of incidents from 1994 to 2018,
consistently provided the trigger for violence. And comments by
politicians are again stirring up resentment in the lead up to
national elections in May.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several articles on recent
incidents in South Africa, including one drawing on parallel cases
in West Africa from decades earlier.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today, and available on the
recent data on the large proportion of African migrants who choose
to move to other countries in the continent rather than more
Also of interest:
BBC News, "How Common are Xenophobic Attacks," April 7, 2019
Shola Lawal, “GHANA MUST GO: The ugly history of Africa’s most
famous bag,” Mail & Guardian, April 5, 2019
Bheki C. Simelane, “Xenophobia, crime and poverty trigger anger in
Alexandra,” Daily Maverick, 3 April 2019
Paddy Harper, “Resolute in the face of xenophobia,” Mail &
Guardian, 5 Apr 2019
Jean Pierre Misago, “Political Mobilisation as the Trigger of
Xenophobic Violence in Post-Apartheid South Africa,”
International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 2019
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration, visit
On South Africa in particular, see
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
Xenophobic attacks in South Africa ahead of elections
South Africa’s election season rhetoric has sparked fresh
xenophobic attacks on African migrants
By Lynsey Chutel
April 2, 2019
https://qz.com/africa/ - Direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/y5cpff45
Xenophobic violence has erupted in South Africa again, in a cycle
that is now being fueled by politicians ramping up anti-immigrant
rhetoric in a country where foreigners are easy targets.
Last week, Malawians living among South Africans in a squatter
camp on the outskirts of Durban were attacked by their neighbors.
More than 100 crowded into a police station for protection and
were eventually housed in a tent in an open field. Unconfirmed
reports said two people were killed.
The latest attacks were vigilantes who were said to have found a
Malawian man with stolen goods. Over several days, Malawians in
the settlement were targeted as retribution. Calm was restored by
Apr. 1, after South Africans officials intervened, the local
Islamic Society and other NGOs negotiated and the Malawian
community of Durban had to write a letter apologizing on behalf of
one man, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. No
arrests were made.
Elias Twaibu barely survived the 2015 attacks in Durban in which
several people were killed. The 30-year-old went back home to
Malawi, but that country’s economic straits drove him back to
South Africa, where was again attacked last week.
“Coming back to a country that stripped me of my dignity became my
only option,” he told the Sunday Tribune, Durban’s local weekly.
“I was so desperate and impoverished that I came back here. It’s a
decision I truly regret making.”
The attacks aren’t usually targeted against one nationality, with
Somalis, Congolese, Mozambicans, Nigerians and Zimbabweans all
bearing the brunt throughout the last decade of anti-immigrant
The 2015 attacks were fueled by comments made by Zulu King
Goodwill Zwelithini as he flexed his political muscles. This time,
the thread may not seem as direct, but the attacks come after
weeks of anti-immigrant rhetoric by South African politicians. On
Monday (Apr. 1), president Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the attacks,
reminding South Africans that they owe their African neighbors a
debt of gratitude for their support during the struggle against
apartheid. Yet, just days earlier, Ramaphosa himself scapegoated
foreigners while on the campaign trail.
“Everybody just arrives in our townships and rural areas and set
up businesses without licenses and permits. We are going to bring
this to an end,” he said at a rally.
Despite recurrent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, the
opposition from civil society has also been strong. Credit:
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
As the ANC government struggles to provide basic services, they
have blamed foreigners for burdening the public service. In
November last year, health minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the
health service was collapsing in part due to “the weight that
foreign nationals are bringing to the country.” He defended his
comments, saying it had “nothing to do with xenophobia, it’s a
That’s the same line taken up by the official opposition, the
Democratic Alliance. “Securing our borders,” has become a key part
of their election manifesto, blaming the ANC for “failing”
immigration policies. They’ve linked immigration to their main
campaigning points, job creation and crime.
“Johannesburg attracts more than 3,000 people every month and not
all of those people are registered,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane,
calling for more secure borders and taxes on foreign-owned
businesses. It’s worth noting that Maimane and the DA’s policy
zero in on inner-city Johannesburg and Pretoria, home to many
African immigrants, and not Cape Town, a DA stronghold and a
favorite of expats, code for white immigrants.
“The biggest challenge is that people don’t have work here,” he
added. “The other issue that is becoming problematic is that our
citizens don’t feel safe.”
It’s an immigration strategy Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has
employed more blatantly and much longer, blaming foreigners for
urban decay. When finally providing low-income housing, Mashaba
ensured that they were only to be occupied by South Africans,
potentially splitting up mixed families. Smaller parties who want
to be noticed have adopted the same prejudice as policy.
In 2008, more than 60 people were killed in attacks on foreigners,
and since then this violence has never quite disappeared. Fuelled
by economic insecurity, these attacks are mostly perpetrated by
black South Africans target African migrants, the vulnerable
attacking the most vulnerable. That this hatred is now being
picked up by politicians is cynical, and terrifying.
Immigrants robbed and forced to sleep outside in Durban
Victims of latest xenophobic violence blame electioneering by
GroundUp, 28 March 2019 By Musa Binda
https://www.groundup.org.za – Direct URL:
About 100 immigrants, mostly from Malawi, are currently having to
sleep in an open space near Sydenham police station in Durban.
Xenophobic attackers have driven them away from the homes they
Dozens of people, mostly from Malawi, are sleeping outside in
Sydenham, Durban. Credit: Musa Binda
The displaced foreign nationals blame government officials for the
ongoing attacks. They told GroundUp that politicians on the
campaign trail have been using fear of immigrants to drum up
support, for example by promising to tighten borders after the
upcoming election to control the number of immigrants entering the
“This sends South Africans a message that we are not welcome. And
the only way they can communicate that is by attacking us,” said a
man who asked not to be named.
He said the recent attacks started in Kenville when a group of
about 100 people stormed several tuckshops owned by Somalians and
started looting on Sunday night. He said that a woman who was
trying to run away from the attackers by walking on a building
roof fell off and died.
“In an attempt to retaliate, the Somalians shot at the crowd and
one person was killed while two others were rushed to hospital for
medical attention. It got ugly as several shops were looted and
burnt. The attacks then moved to Burnwood,” said the man.
To verify the man’s story, we spoke to the police. SAPS spokesman,
Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane said a case of murder and and an
inquest docket were being investigated by Sydenham and Greenwood
Park police stations. He said several other cases of public
violence, arson, damage to property and looting were opened “as
chaos led to the looting of foreign-owned tuck shops, torching of
their cars and houses”. He said police were monitoring the
Miriam Mussa, a Malawian immigrant, is currently sleeping in the
open with her toddler daughter. “It was about 1am on Monday when
we were forced out of our rented rooms. I was with my baby and my
husband. Even though they did not hurt us after seeing that we had
a small baby, they allowed us to leave with only the clothes we
were wearing. We watched them as they took out all our furniture,”
She said that her family has been sleeping for two days in the
open, and her daughter has become sick. “I think it’s because she
is too weak to withstand the kind of cold we are exposed to. It
could also be caused by the fact that we are starving here,” said
Mussa, who came to South Africa three years ago to look for a job.
She found one as a domestic worker in the area.
Another Malawian, John Valleta, said the attackers told them that
they were angry because foreign nationals were taking their jobs.
“They said we were a bad influence on the employers because we
accept cheap labour yet we accept long hours and loads of work.
They said for this reason employers preferred employing foreigners
and that angers South Africans because it left them with no jobs.
They wanted us to go back to our countries and they were going to
make that happen the hard way.”
He claimed that during the attacks scores of immigrant men were
injured because the attackers beat them. He said despite sleeping
in the open they still felt less safe because they don’t know what
the attackers are planning next.
Ethekwini Municipality Deputy Mayor Fawzia Pier visited the
displaced people and promised that better shelter was being
arranged. Pier said that a meeting with residents was being
Alexandra shut down as residents take to the streets
by Zoë Postman
GroundUp, 3 April 2019
Thousands of residents of Alexandra in Johannesburg shut down the
township on Wednesday morning, demanding that Mayor Herman Mashaba
address them on solutions to problems with overcrowding, water and
Residents started blockading streets in Alexandra with burning
tyres and garbage at about 5am. Protesters marched down London
road, moving towards the N3 highway, and ended up near the
Marlboro Gautrain station where they expected to be addressed by
Mashaba sent Yao-Heng Michael Sun, Mayco Member for Public Safety,
to address the crowd but they would not allow him to speak. They
insisted on being addressed by Mashaba.
According to the 2011 census, about 180,000 people live in
Alexandra. The township is close to Sandton, one of the most
affluent suburbs in Johannesburg.
Protesters said Alexandra was being neglected and they would not
vote in the upcoming elections if the City of Johannesburg did not
address the issues they faced.
Resident Thabisile Ndaba, who was born in Alexandra and has lived
there all her life, said the constant building of new shacks had
resulted in overpopulation.
“When you open your window, there’s a new shack. When you open
your door, there’s a new shack…We are not against any foreigners
or fighting with anyone. We just want the City to stop the
building of new shacks because this situation is out of hand. Some
people are even building shacks on the pavements where people have
to walk.” she said.
As a result of the overpopulation, Ndaba said, basic services such
as water and electricity were stretched thin and the residents of
Alexandra were suffering the consequences. She said the City
should build more flats and houses so that people would stop
erecting new shacks.
But another resident, Judy Makwana, said she wanted foreign
nationals to leave the country because they were “taking jobs”
from South Africans.
“We want our children to get work, that’s why I’m here. I’m
fighting for my kids,” said Makwana.
She accused the City of treating immigrants better than South
Africans and said she would not vote in the forthcoming elections.
She said immigrants “live in nice houses while our grannies live
in one room shacks with five other people”.
In what became a debate amongst a small group of residents,
another resident Kabelo Tsotetsi, defended immigrants, saying they
were starting their own businesses and not taking jobs from South
Tsotetsi said: “Our government doesn’t make it easy for foreigners
to live here, they don’t get help. They come from countries where
they are severely oppressed and they come here and face the same
struggles as us. We are all Africans fighting for our dignity.”
He said people should be looking to government for answers on why
it had failed its people instead of finding reasons to blame each
How not to handle migration in South Africa:
Lessons from West Africa
by Mukoni Ratshitanga
Mukoni Ratshitanga is head of content at POWER 98.7.
With the ANC and DA entering the sensitive migration issue via an
election campaign, there is a very real danger that the situation
might one day spiral out beyond their control, writes Mukoni
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has proffered advice
to African political parties and citizens on the thorny issue of
migration across the continent.
In an exclusive interview on POWER 98.7, Obasanjo said: "Migration
is something that must be handled with dexterity, with
responsibility and with sensitivity on the continent of Africa."
He appealed to political parties who are apprehensive of migrants
to "think again". The elderly African statesman, who was in South
Africa last week to attend the Southern African Development
Community (SADC) Solidarity Conference on Western Sahara, said:
"What you think you will gain in terms of jobs for your people by
keeping other people from other countries away will amount to
Referring to the January 1983 Executive Ordinance by the then
Nigerian president, the recently deceased Shehu Shagari, which
expelled over two million – most of them Ghanaian citizens – from
Nigeria, Obasanjo said: "We tried it in Nigeria; it didn't work."
The Shagari Ordinance came against the backdrop of a cocktail of
socio-economic fortunes and misfortunes rooted in the complex West
African and African history. The years 1973 – 1981 witnessed a
rise in the oil price – Nigeria's main source of revenue – which
enabled the state to make significant investments in public works
and light industries. This pull-factor brought greater numbers of
migrants from neighbouring countries into Nigeria, a process
further propelled by the 1973 and 1974 drought in the Sahel
Things would predictably take a different turn by the early 1980s.
The oil price fell sharply in 1981, the Nigerian economy declined,
along with industrial investment, while urban unemployment –
affecting two thirds of urban workers – rose. Worse still,
widespread corruption during the period of the Shagari government
only served to aggravate the situation.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) Structural Adjustment
Programme which imposed unpopular cuts in social expenditure
followed in 1983, an election year in Nigeria. The confluence of
negative socio-economic circumstances impacted on the political
sphere, drawing into the potent mix, migrants who, until then, had
not featured prominently in the Nigerian public discourse.
On January 17, 1983, the Nigerian government ordered all unskilled
and undocumented migrants to leave the country within 14 days.
They were accused of taking away jobs from citizens, engaging in
crime and other forms of deviant social conduct, while allegations
of conspiracy to register migrants as voters in the general
election of August that year were levelled against the opposition.
Shagari would win the elections by a comfortable margin of four
million votes more than the second most popular contestant,
What goes around comes around: the 1969 Ghanaian expulsion of
Fourteen years earlier in 1969, the Ghana government had expelled
150 000 Nigerians who had lived in Ghana for decades, eking out a
livelihood as traders, workers, farmers and other professions.
At the time, the Ghanaian economy was cocoa-dependent, and the
commodity provided for over 70% of foreign exchange earnings. The
20 years from 1950 – 1970 witnessed a continuous decline in the
world cocoa price which had dropped by 75% by 1969.
A pattern emerges here: the greater the economic hardship, the
louder the anti-immigrant decibels become. Nigerian academics
Johnson Aremu and Adeyinka Ajayi would later note, in a paper
published in 2014 that, "With Ghana's continued economic
misfortunes, the Government and popular press really had no
difficulty turning to aliens as scapegoats for their malaise.
"The expulsion order may also be seen as an attempt by [Prime
Minister] Kofi Busia to win the confidence of the masses and
restore the legitimacy of his government. Since government was
losing its grip on the economic survival of the country, Busia and
his cabinet members were left with little or no choice than to
seek solace in sending away non-nationals as a way of appeasing
the anger of the masses."
Enemies of Africa
Last week, President Obasanjo had strong words for those who hold
and propagate anti-immigrant positions. "Anybody who is a party to
it," he said, "I would say he's an enemy of Africa. And if any
political party is doing that, I would say, they should think
again." He stressed that he, as a matter of principle, would never
be party to "stopping any African from moving freely within
Africa. I will never be a party to it."
He said that law enforcement agencies of immigrant recipient
countries should address measures against criminal conduct among
immigrants rather than tarnish everyone with the same brush. "If
they are criminals, of course you shouldn't allow criminals."
He implored political parties to understand that migration is an
age-old phenomenon which pre-dates the formation of the nation
state. "Migration is what has kept the world going. And I believe
that nothing should stop [it]" adding that "migrants have a lot to
offer" to host countries.
Migrants, the 2019 general election and Pan Africanism
For the very first time since 1994, this year the immigrant
question is serving as an election issue.
It entered the electoral terrain in dramatic fashion when, in
November last year, City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba,
generated a little storm in a tea cup; 'arresting' a man for
carrying a cow head destined for dismembering and eventual sale in
the informal market. Endorsing his boss' 'arrest,' David Tembe,
the chief of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department
(JMPD) claimed that the man was an undocumented migrant. Mashaba
boldly claimed that his intervention was a preventative measure
against the Ebola disease, suggesting that Africans from beyond
our borders are nothing but mobile carriers of disease!
But the entire spectacle was suspect. It bore the hallmarks of the
launch of a choreographed anti-African immigrant electoral
platform by Mashaba's party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). For
while Mashaba was shopping for publicity and applause by targeting
a lone informal trader in the streets of Johannesburg and making
emotive and offensive statements about other Africans, DA Member
of Parliament Jacques Julius was simultaneously engaged in his own
lengthy Twitter campaign along the South African and Mozambican
border, demanding that the government "Secure[s] Our Borders".
A coincidence? I have my doubts.
There followed by a plethora of potentially inflammatory public
statements by politicians from across the political divide about
the burden placed on the country's fiscus by immigrants, the
supposed unfair competition they brought to local small business
owners and other remarks that provoke bigoted discourse in the
In fact, to be fair to the DA, the most virulent charge against
migrants was led by Safety and Security Deputy Minister Bongani
Mkongi at a press conference in July 14, 2017. To illustrate the
gravity of his stance, it is best to quote him in full: "The
question arises and we must investigate also what the law of South
Africa is saying, how can a city in South Africa be 80% foreign
nationals. That is dangerous. That in Hillbrow and the surrounding
areas, South Africans have surrendered their own city. The nation
should discuss that particular question.
"We are surrendering our land and it is not xenophobia to talk
[the] truth. We fought for this land from a white minority. We
cannot surrender it to the foreign nationals. That is a matter of
principle. We fought for this country, not only for us, for the
generations of South Africans.
"I want to ask the nation South Africa and the so-called human
rights activists and organisations what must the police do when
they are shot at by criminals? Must they sing 'Nkosi Sikelel'
iAfrika or must they return fire? We are losing police officers
day in and day out but we are protecting criminals who are
terrorising our people. We are 52 million people. If each and
every of us can be a police officer and fight against crime we
will squeeze crime in South Africa."
Framing the discussion this way is most unhelpful for obvious
reasons, the most glaring being the use of statistics which no one
knows the source from whence they are drawn. Most importantly, we
close room for appreciating the benefit that South Africa receives
from immigrant labour, skilled and unskilled, professionals like
doctors employed in the South African public health system and the
private sector, academics and others as well as the cross-cultural
pollination every society requires for its own evolution and
With these two major parties entering the sensitive migration
issue via an election campaign, and so many high-ranking
politicians speaking emotively in a manner that scapegoats
migrants for our abiding structural socio-economic challenges,
there is a very real danger that the situation might one day
spiral out beyond their control, with catastrophic consequences
for the human beings involved and for our country's relations with
the rest of the African continent and the world.
The irony of history is that it is the DA, a liberal party with
very little commitment to the continent of Africa, which, in the
context of a difficult election for the ANC, baited the ANC, a Pan
African formation, to enter the immigrant question with haste,
resorting to potentially dangerous populism. The unavoidable
question the ANC needs to ponder over is whether it has lost its
Pan African vision and what the implications are for South
Africa's relations with the rest of the continent.
It is vitally important not to lose sight of the social and
economic justice imperatives at play here. The inequitable
distribution of resources within and between countries is one of
the drivers of migration within and beyond the continent. It also
foments the resentments that lead to hostility towards migrants.
It is not enough or acceptable to replace such a considered
approach with simplistic and populist high-pitched shrills
bemoaning the presence of migrants.
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