SA criticised for ‘dismissing’ problem of xenophobia

Ongoing incidents of xenophobic violence in South Africa have raised concerns about the safety of foreigners in that country, with the government being criticised for dismissing the fact that there is a real problem.

In the past few weeks there have a number of unrelated, xenophobic attacks across South Africa and human rights groups have warned that this is part of an ongoing problem.

Last month South African police arrested 45 people for public violence, housebreaking and possession of unlicensed firearms in the Diepsloot area after residents went on a rampage, looting foreign owned shops. This was after a fatal shooting, which left two Zimbabweans dead.

In the same month, more than 90 people were arrested for protest-related crimes in Evaton, Orange Farm, and Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg. Complaints of looting and vandalism of spaza shops belonging to foreigners were reported.
Violence also flared up in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, where Somali shop owners were targeted.

David Cote, who runs the Strategic Litigation Unit of Lawyers for Human Rights in South Africa, said that tensions remain very high since the deadly xenophobic violence that swept South Africa in 2008, resulting in the deaths of more than 60 people, mainly foreigners.

Cote told SW Radio Africa that the violence has been ongoing since then, although on a less coordinated scale.

“What it appears to be (now) is a lot of this anger being displayed, particularly during service delivery protests, which get deflected to foreign nationals, operating shops,” Cote said.

According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least three incidents per week were reported in 2012. Cote said that those not killed have been severely injured and “there is no way of determining just how much has been lost in business and property after attacks.”

“There has never been a coordinated effort to institute some kind of national healing after those attacks. We still have incidents of police harassing people on the streets, and we continue to see large scale mobs attacking foreign owned shops and this show it there is a serious problem with security for foreign nationals,” Cote said.

He added that Lawyers for Human Rights and other groups have been left ‘disappointed’ by the government’s response to these hate crimes, with officials dismissing the incidents as theft or “run of the mill crime. “

“Instead of calling it xenophobia, it is more seen as theft or intentional damage to property. But what we seem to be ignoring is the fact that one of the roots is xenophobia and it seems to be a fear and loathing of foreign nationals that allows these attacks to take place,” Cote said.

He added: “One of the things we’d been hoping to see is some hate crime legislation, but it has been waiting in committees for years and we haven’t seen this legislation come out yet.”