Only concrete action can take us out of the xenophobic muddle

Zulu residents of the Jeppe Mens Hostel scream, waving batons in the Johannesburg CBD on September 3, 2019 after South Africa's financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. Picture: Michele Spatari / AFP

Those behind the attacks want us to believe that foreign nationals are a homogenous group involved in drugs and human trafficking. Not all of them are.

Ugly scenes: marauding mobs carrying sticks, machetes and petrol bombs – combing Gauteng streets as if they were hunters in a forest full of game.

Like a pack of hyenas in a bush, this week has seen a bunch of bloodthirsty criminals mushrooming from everywhere to attack foreign nationals in Pretoria, Benoni, Kempton Park, Jeppestown, Alexandra, Turffontein, Soweto and Johannesburg – all in the name of “fighting for business and job opportunities”.

Pillaging and in possession of anything from fridges, television sets, toilet paper, blankets and food, residents, including women and children, joined in cleaning out of shops owned by foreign nationals – sometimes in full view of the police.

South Africa is a democratic state, which subscribes to a constitution, enshrining freedom of expression and a right to hold an orderly demonstration to back up any legitimate demands.

But what we have seen has certainly portrayed a picture far from that of people demonstrating to drive a point to government on jobs and business opportunities “being taken by foreign nationals”.

The attacks on foreign nationals by lawless hordes, which is getting international media coverage, is bad for South Africa, whose president has committed himself to attract the much-needed foreign direct investment.

Taking place after President Cyril Ramaphosa returned from the G7 summit in France, where he positioned South Africa as a tourism and investment destination, the xenophobic attacks can only serve to ruin his efforts.

Concerned about the xenophobic incidents, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on South African political leaders to help in finding a solution to end the strife.

The incidents have already had a knock-on effect, with:

  • The Zambian Football Association cancelling a scheduled weekend international friendly with Bafana Bafana; and
  • Angry Nigerian youths attacking a South African-owned Shoprite store in Lagos.

Those who despise foreign nationals should wake up to the fact that we are no longer an apartheid pariah state, but part of a global village.

Our borders have proven to be porous because of corrupt elements among custom officials and police, whose actions have led to a stream of undocumented foreign nationals into South Africa. Ramaphosa should implement a strategy to weed out such rotten apples.

Those behind the attacks want us to believe that foreign nationals are a homogenous group involved in drugs and human trafficking.

Not all of them are.

Regardless of nationality, if anyone is found to be involved in wrongdoing, the law should take its course.

Unfortunately, the reality is that we still have corrupt members within the police who are prepared to accept any bribe to circumvent investigations.

Although Ramaphosa has unequivocally condemned the xenophobic attacks, only concrete action to cleanse the country of the scourge of xenophobia can take us out of this muddle.

Brian Sokutu.

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