President Jacob Zuma and the ANC have denied that the current spate of violent attacks against foreign nationals in the country were because of xenophobia, saying that communities were rather pushing back against drug abuse and other crimes.
In a statement on Tuesday (28 February), the Zuma said that the recent violence seen in community protests were being mischaracterised as xenophobia, when in fact they were a result of personal fueds and other crimes, such as drug abuse.
He downplayed cases of foreign-owned shops being looted during protests, and other reported crimes against foreign nationals by the communities. He also did not acknowledge an entire protest march that was recently held explicitly against foreigners.
Speaking outside the Rietgat Police Station in Soshanguve, Zuma said that, while attacks against foreigners are ‘concerning’, he does not see the recent unrest as being xenophobia.
“What I am saying is, we should not highlight that and give the wrong impression that South Africans are xenophobic.”
The ruling ANC party took Zuma’s message further, saying that, on top of crime, businesses are also to blame for any conflict between South Africans and foreigners.
“The real issue (is) the fact that our communities are tired of the unacceptably high levels of crime and joblessness; compounded by the employment of illegal immigrants by unscrupulous employers in an effort to circumvent South Africa’s stringent and worker-friendly labour laws,” the party said.
The ANC said that only in “certain instances” could protests be seen to have taken the form of “xenophobic” attacks
“South Africans are not xenophobic. South Africa houses more immigrants than many other countries on this and other continents including Europe.
“In our country, immigrants are integrated in our communities, living and working together with South African nationals,” it said.
Message from the top
Violence against foreigners in South Africa has escalated in recent weeks, including an ‘anti-foreigner’ march held by residents in Pretoria, and the burning of alleged ‘brothels and drug dens’ in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, which were mainly occupied by foreigners.
Looting and burning of foreign-owned stores in Jeppestown took place two nights in a row this week – all while foreign-nationals across the province have expressed fear for their safety and well-being.
Messages from government officials have not helped the issue, with Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba standing firm in his opposition to illegal immigrants, and calls for the South African borders to be closed off to prevent a further influx of undocumented migrants.
Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigiba has also spoke against illegal immigrants, but has focused his message more on the businesses who hire undocumented workers, saying that they will be found out and charged.
Mashaba has labelled undocumented migrants as criminals, while Gigaba has encouraged businesses to hire “South Africans first”. Politicians are blaming each other for sparking the unrest.
These messages, while focused on illegal foreigners in the country, have led to a spate of incidents which have exacerbated the plight of foreign nationals in South Africa, including a case where a local school threatened to kick out any foreign learners that could not provide the appropriate documentation showing they are here legally.
The overall message from South Africa regarding foreign nationals has also created problems for South African businesses operating in other African countries, in some cases leading to retaliatory action against South Africans working abroad.
Activist from other African countries have lashed out at South Africa, calling for more action from government to stamp out xenophobic violence.