In S. Africa, vi­o­lence fol­lows a surge in xeno­pho­bia

A new po­lit­i­cal party prom­ises de­por­ta­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY KEVIN SIEFF kevin.sieff@wash­post.com

nairobi — Ask Mario Khu­malo to ex­plain South Africa’s crime rate or its eco­nomic trou­bles, and he has an an­swer that sounds like a Don­ald Trump talk­ing point: There are too many for­eign­ers.

“We have al­lowed in crim­i­nals and for­mer child sol­diers. The gov­ern­ment has failed to pro­tect its own peo­ple,” the 37-year-old said in a phone in­ter­view. Khu­malo has launched a new po­lit­i­cal party called South Africa First, promising mass de­por­ta­tions of im­mi­grants and “strict vet­ting.”

In re­cent days, with a rise in xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence and demon­stra­tions, it ap­pears his plat­form has found broader ap­peal.

About 2.2 mil­lion im­mi­grants live in South Africa, ac­cord­ing to the last cen­sus, the ma­jor­ity from other African coun­tries such as Zim­babwe, Mozam­bique, Le­sotho, Nige­ria and So­ma­lia. Many mi­grants lack of­fi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion and are work­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally. Since Nel­son Man­dela’s elec­tion in 1994, the coun­try has been seen as a bea­con for mi­grants flee­ing war and poverty in other parts of the con­ti­nent.

But as South Africa has strug­gled with poverty and crime, mi­grants have in­creas­ingly found them­selves in the crosshairs, blamed for steal­ing jobs and com­mit­ting crimes. The un­em­ploy­ment rate in the coun­try is more than 30 per­cent.

On Fri­day, pro­test­ers marched through the ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal, Pre­to­ria, calling on the South African gov­ern­ment to take a stronger stance against il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. In one part of the city, pro­test­ers ap­peared to lunge at a group of im­mi­grants, with po­lice of­fi­cers fir­ing rub­ber bul­lets to sep­a­rate the two groups.

The mayor of nearby Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa’s largest city, spoke out against the in­ci­dent.

“I would like to again re­it­er­ate my deep con­cern for the flare-up of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence in parts of Gauteng,” Mayor Herman Mashaba said, re­fer­ring to the province that con­tains the two cities.

In the days be­fore the protest, res­i­dents dis­trib­uted fliers around parts of Pre­to­ria.

“Nige­ri­ans, Pak­ista­nis, Zim­bab­weans etc bring noth­ing but destruction; hi­jack our build­ings, sell drugs; in­ject young South African ladies with drugs and sell them as pros­ti­tutes,” the fliers said, ac­cord­ing to the Daily Mav­er­ick news­pa­per.

Fri­day’s demon­stra­tion came days af­ter more than 30 for­eignowned shops across Pre­to­ria were looted. Since the beginning of the year, at least 14 So­ma­lis have been killed in South Africa, ac­cord­ing to the So­mali Com­mu­nity Board of South Africa.

Khu­malo, a for­mer ac­count man­ager at an elec­tron­ics com­pany, says many South Africans are get­ting tired of the way the coun­try serves as a mag­net for the down­trod­den, even as South African ci­ti­zens are strug­gling to get by. He is still de­cid­ing what po­si­tions his party will pur­sue in fu­ture elec­tions.

“Peo­ple come here be­cause they think South Africa is the land of milk and honey, but it’s still a coun­try where peo­ple are liv­ing without flush­ing toi­lets,” he said.

Khu­malo, who lived in the United States for 11 years, says his fo­cus on pro­tect­ing South Africa’s bor­ders wasn’t in­spired by Trump, even if their cam­paigns show sim­i­lar­i­ties.

“We’ve been strug­gling with im­mi­gra­tion since long be­fore any­one here ever heard of Don­ald Trump,” he said.

South African economists have said that foreign work­ers have a small im­pact on em­ploy­ment in the coun­try, mak­ing up about 4 per­cent of the work­force. But for years, as­pir­ing politi­cians and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have di­rected their anger at im­mi­grants.

On Thurs­day, pro­test­ers in Nige­ria’s cap­i­tal city, Abuja, re­spond­ing to the string of xeno­pho­bic in­ci­dents in South Africa, at­tempted to storm the of­fice of South African mobile phone com­pany MTN. On Fri­day, the of­fice re­mained closed and sur­rounded by po­lice, ac­cord­ing to re­ports.

South African leaders, mean­while, tried to dis­tance them­selves from the demon­stra­tions in Pre­to­ria.

“Vi­o­lence has no place in our coun­try, where we strive to pro­mote peace­ful co­ex­is­tence be­tween all those who re­side within our bor­ders,” Zizi Kodwa, a spokesman for South Africa’s rul­ing African Na­tional Congress party, said in a state­ment.

South Africa’s bouts of xeno­pho­bia fly in the face of com­pet­ing ef­forts to in­crease unity across the con­ti­nent. The African Union last year pro­posed an “African pass­port” that would al­low visa-free ac­cess across its 54 mem­ber states. But dis­putes be­tween African na­tions and an anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment in places such as South Africa and Kenya make its im­ple­men­ta­tion un­likely.

THEMBA HADEBE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

ABOVE: A po­lice of­fi­cer fires rub­ber bul­lets at anti-im­mi­grant pro­test­ers in Pre­to­ria on Fri­day. BE­LOW: Po­lice de­tained some pro­test­ers. The coun­try, which is strug­gling with poverty and crime, is home to 2.2 mil­lion im­mi­grants, most from Africa and many there il­le­gally.

PHILL MA­G­A­KOE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IMAGES

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