Fear paral­y­ses for­eign­ers amid xeno­pho­bic threats to SA poll

African Times - - News - SAVIOUS KWINIKA

WITH pre­vi­ous elec­tions in re­cent years char­ac­terised by scape­goat­ing of for­eign na­tion­als for pre­vail­ing so­cioe­co­nomic prob­lems af­flict­ing South Africa, fear has gripped for­eign na­tion­als ahead of prepa­ra­tions for water­shed elec­tions in 2019.

Politi­cians des­per­ate for votes in the tense fight to win over the elec­torate that is bear­ing the brunt of eco­nomic chal­lenges such as poverty and job­less­ness, have in re­cent polls made the most of the lo­cal ci­ti­zens’ des­per­a­tion such that it has be­come fash­ion­able to sin­gle out for­eign­ers for South Africa’s woes.

They are of­ten ac­cused of “steal­ing” jobs, women and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties meant for their lo­cal coun­ter­parts.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial South African sta­tis­tics, as of 2011 cen­sus, 2,2 mil­lion for­eign­ers live in South Africa, which has an of­fi­cial (2011) pop­u­la­tion of 51,8 mil­lion.

In­di­ca­tions are that the for­eign pop­u­la­tion is a vast un­der­es­ti­ma­tion.

The real fig­ure may in fact be as high as 5 mil­lion, in­clud­ing some three mil­lion es­ti­mated Zim­bab­weans).

Mi­grants’ rights groups re­ported that the vast ma­jor­ity of th­ese na­tion­als were pan­ick­ing ahead of the up­com­ing gen­eral elec­tions in the host coun­try.

“We are def­i­nitely wor­ried while get­ting closer to the gen­eral elec­tions sched­uled for 2019. This is be­cause based on past ex­pe­ri­ence, for­eign na­tion­als have paid with their lives dur­ing such elec­tions,” said Marc Gbaf­fou, the chair­man of the African Di­as­pora Fo­rum (ADF) chair­man.

Speak­ing in an in­ter­view with CAJ News, Gbaf­fou, who is orig­i­nally from the Ivory Coast, lamented that it was com­mon that mi­grants were caught up in fiery ser­vice de­liv­ery protests that spo­rad­i­cally af­fect South Africa.

“Those politi­cians who have no tan­gi­ble ar­gu­ments to con­vince their

elec­torate al­ways take the short­cut by ac­cus­ing for­eign na­tion­als. It’s a pop­ulist ap­proach which seems to be work­ing very well in South Africa. The idea is to make community mem­bers‎ be­lieve that mi­grants are the cause of their suf­fer­ing,” Gbaf­fou said.

He said African mi­grants, mostly liv­ing in the big cities, were anx­ious about the up­com­ing elec­tions.

“This is be­cause of the re­peated at­tacks on the mi­grants’ community in the past ten years,” Gbaf­fou posited.

Gbaf­fou thus ap­pealed to the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa to en­sure mi­grants, whom he termed as a mi­nor­ity group, were al­ways pro­tected by the law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Gabriel Shumba, a hu­man rights lawyer and Di­rec­tor of Zim­babwe Ex­iles Fo­rum (ZEF), who is also an ad­vo­cate at the High Court of South Africa, said while it was la­mentable, scape­goat­ing of for­eign­ers for po­lit­i­cal mileage was a new phe­nom­e­non in the coun­try.

“As non-na­tion­als, we live with this re­al­ity daily, es­pe­cially un­doc­u­mented mi­grants, asy­lum seek­ers and refugees. We are mys­ti­fied that rec­om­men­da­tions that have been made over the years to harshly pun­ish po­lit­i­cal de­viants who prey on non-na­tional vul­ner­a­ble groups have not been im­ple­mented,” Shumba said.

He said while the Hate Crimes Bill was cur­rently in Par­lia­ment, more strin­gent and harsher pun­ish­ment for hate crimes, the prop­a­ga­tion of xeno­pho­bia or racism as well as any other crimes of in­tol­er­ance must mean­while be ef­fected.

“We hope that Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa’s African Na­tional Congress will not only has­ten the pas­sage of the Hate Crimes

Bill but also lead in terms of its im­ple­men­ta­tion. We thus call upon all other po­lit­i­cal par­ties in SA to en­dorse the Bill,” he ap­pealed.

Shumba said South Africa should take cue from East and Cen­tral African coun­tries such as Uganda, which have shown the way in terms of tol­er­ance.

“How­ever, we ac­cept that South has done much for Zim­bab­weans and other na­tion­al­i­ties, and that de­viant el­e­ments are in­evitably to be found,” he said.

South African-based Nige­rian en­tre­pre­neur, Okoro Okonkwo, said fear was also grip­ping his com­pa­tri­ots liv­ing in the South­ern African coun­try ahead of polls.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, Nige­ria, Africa’s big­gest econ­omy, with a re­cent his­tory of ri­valry with South Africa, will also hold gen­eral elec­tions in 2019.

“Some of us are presently liv­ing in numbers, or rent full houses as Nige­rian na­tion­als in com­mu­ni­ties to avoid be­ing at­tacked in­di­vid­u­ally. Liv­ing in numbers en­ables us to de­fend our­selves.

“How­ever, our plea to the South African gov­ern­ment is to dis­suade politi­cians against in­cit­ing hate based on xeno­pho­bia,” Okonkwo ap­pealed.

Nige­ria claims over 100 of its na­tion­als have been killed in al­leged xeno­pho­bic at­tacks in South Africa in re­cent years.

Nqabutho Mab­hena, Chair­man of Zim­babwe Di­as­pora Fo­rum, how­ever said dis­crim­i­na­tion was not pe­cu­liar to South Africa but a global is­sue.

“We have seen how Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has used it in the USA. In Western Europe, it has given rise to right wing move­ments and po­lit­i­cal par­ties,”Mab­hena ar­gued.

“South Africa can­not af­ford to be sur­rounded by poor coun­tries. This

in­creases the in­flux of mi­grants, which leads to com­pe­ti­tion of lo­cal re­sources lead­ing to xeno­pho­bia at­tacks,” he added.

In­stead of be­ing paral­ysed with fear, mi­grants must con­sider join­ing trade unions, Mab­hena rec­om­mended.

“This helps in deal­ing with is­sues as a col­lec­tive.”

Mab­hena con­ceded to the chal­lenges of high un­em­ploy­ment in South Africa with mi­grants vic­tims of “greedy” em­ploy­ers.

He dis­closed Zim­babwe Di­as­pora Fo­rum was ac­cel­er­at­ing ef­forts, in con­junc­tion with lo­cal branches of the ANC and other mass demo­cratic move­ments, to raise aware­ness on is­sues around the wel­fare of mi­grants.

“Xeno­pho­bia at­tacks hap­pen at community level hence our work with lo­cal struc­tures,” Mab­hena ex­plained.

“This is the ideal so­ci­ety we seek to es­tab­lish.

“Xeno­pho­bia at­tacks are not di­rected at pro­fes­sion­als but in poor com­mu­ni­ties hence our so­cial co­he­sion pro­gramme as fo­cused in town­ships and in­for­mal set­tle­ments.”

The ini­tia­tives, Mab­hena fur­ther dis­closed, had been es­ca­lated to gov­ern­ment level.

“In re­spect to mi­grants who own busi­nesses, we are in con­tact with the Min­istry of Small Busi­ness, with whom we have agreed to work to­gether to en­sure shar­ing of busi­ness skills be­tween mi­grants and South Africans.”

Ahead of Africa Week com­mem­o­ra­tions in May, mi­grants to­gether with lo­cals have al­ready coined this year’s theme as “Cel­e­brat­ing Madiba, past, present and fu­ture.”

Man­dela ad­vo­cated for an in­clu­sive post-in­de­pen­dence South Africa, re­flected in the con­sti­tu­tion pre­am­ble that the coun­try “be­longs to all who live in it, united in our di­ver­sity.”

How­ever, renowned South African po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, Pro­fes­sor Tinyiko Maluleke, dis­agreed elec­tions trig­gered xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence.

“The first ma­jor man­i­fes­ta­tion of so-called xeno­pho­bic at­tacks was in

2008. There were no elec­tions that year. The pre­sump­tion that this

phe­nom­e­non is linked to elec­tions does not seem to have the ac­tual ba­sis in fact,” Maluleke said.

“When th­ese at­tacks have oc­curred, it has not been con­nected to elec­tions. Un­for­tu­nately, some politi­cians, es­pe­cially those at the lower ranks at lo­cal community lev­els, may have ex­ploited this, from time to time. One could spec­u­late and wonder whether this is­sue will be made a vote-buy­ing is­sue by the politi­cians but that is con­jec­ture and imag­i­na­tion not fact.”

Maluleke said xeno­pho­bia must be lo­cated in the “dif­fi­cult” colo­nial his­tory of Africa.

“That colo­nial his­tory is re­spon­si­ble, not only for the colo­nial bor­ders we have come to re­gard as ‘God-given’.

“Also con­sider the xeno­pho­bic at­tacks be­tween Ghana­ians and Nige­ri­ans in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Such prob­lems, he said, had played out in African coun­tries such as Kenya, Rwanda and Zim­babwe.

The an­a­lyst said South Africa was no ex­cep­tion to the afore­men­tioned colo­nial his­tory.

“Ad­di­tion­ally, South Africa had apartheid, which was the idea not only that black and whites should never mix but that dif­fer­ent tribes / eth­nic groups’ so con­structed by the apartheid sys­tem and colo­nial au­thor­i­ties, should live apart from one an­other.”

Maluleke ar­gued the apartheid regime in­stilled a be­lief among South Africans they (blacks) were “luckier and there­fore bet­ter (off ) than blacks in ‘the rest of Africa’ or in ‘Africa North of the Lim­popo.”

He re­counted the dis­cov­ery of gold and di­a­mond in the mid 19th cen­tury, re­sulted in the im­por­ta­tion of cheap black labour not only from ru­ral South Africa but from all of south­ern Africa.

Maluleke high­lighted the prob­lem of politi­cians us­ing pop­ulist rhetoric to win votes was not pe­cu­liar to South Africa.

For ex­am­ple, in United States Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign for the pres­i­dency, Mex­i­cans and the Mus­lims that were scape­goated.

“For Mu­gabe (for­mer Zim­bab­wean pres­i­dent, Robert) it was the white farm­ers who hoarded the land. In South Africa there are many pos­si­ble elec­tion­eer­ing scape­goats: Zuma? Man­dela? Land ex­pro­pri­a­tion with­out com­pen­sa­tion? White monopoly cap­i­tal?, ” Maluleke said.

Lo­cally, Jo­han­nes­burg Mayor, Her­man Mashaba, is among politi­cians ac­cused of in­cit­ing vi­o­lence against mi­grants.

“Mashaba made the loud­est noises about for­eign­ers and drugs in the city but the ANC im­me­di­ately came out against a whole­sale con­dem­na­tion of im­mi­grants,” said Maluleke.

“My sense is that in South Africa, Afro­pho­bic sen­ti­ments re­main mainly a grass­roots phe­nom­e­non which has be­come a reg­u­lar method of blame when­ever South Africans ex­pe­ri­ence eco­nomic hard­ships or ser­vice de­liv­ery dif­fi­cul­ties, ”he added.

For the forth­com­ing elec­tions, Maluleke urged po­lit­i­cal par­ties to con­demn acts of xeno­pho­bia.

“More than that, they need to show ac­tual sol­i­dar­ity with African im­mi­grants, es­pe­cially the vic­tims. Politi­cians must not in­clude the blame of African im­mi­grants as part of their cam­paigns.”

Maluleke urged politi­cians to tackle eco­nomic and ser­vice de­liv­ery and thus not in­flu­ence peo­ple do not look for scape­goats.

He said po­lit­i­cal lead­ers should “kill” the idea of “South African ex­cep­tion­al­isn.”

“For all the talk about a rain­bow na­tion, the African as­pect of that rain­bow – peo­ple, cul­ture, indige­nous lan­guages , his­tory – has not been sharply pro­nounced,” he said.

“As we am­plify the African­ness of South Africa, we shall re­alise how

deeply con­nected we are to all of south­ern Africa and sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. The place of Africa as the place where hu­man­ity was born – South African cra­dle of hu­man­ity as well as the Kenyan Rift Val­ley – should also be an im­por­tant theme,” Maluleke said.

South African Po­lice Ser­vice (SAPS) spokesper­son, Bri­gadier Vishnu Naidoo would not com­ment on what pre­pared­ness their law en­force­ment agency were in the event sim­i­lar at­tacks on for­eign na­tion­als ever oc­cur.

In 2008, for­eign na­tion­als, mainly Ethiopi­ans, Malaw­ians, Mozam­bi­cans, Nige­ri­ans, Pak­istans, So­ma­lians and Zim­bab­weans were tar­geted.

About 62 for­eign na­tion­als were mur­dered with more than 200,000 oth­ers dis­placed from South African com­mu­ni­ties while prop­erty worth mil­lions of Rands looted and de­stroyed in the process.

The at­tacks also reared its ugly head again in 2015 elec­tion where hordes of African na­tional were mur­dered and in­jured in town­ships while their be­long­ings looted or de­stroyed.

Just in 2017, re­newed at­tacks were un­leashed against Nige­rian na­tion­als for al­legedly ped­dling drugs to lo­cal community. – CAJ News

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