A much anticipated report into last year’s xenophobic violence which gripped parts of KwaZulu-Natal has finally been released, and has asked leaders to ensure they make responsible public statements in this regard.
The Special Reference Group’s (SRG) report into Migration and Integration in KwaZulu-Natal also asks leaders to “exercise greater care with their public remarks” and “consider the potential ramifications, both intended and unintended, of statements that are provocative, stereotypical and may be perceived as harmful by any group of persons or individuals”.
The violence erupted in the province – leaving several people dead, injured and displaced – five days after a statement made by King Goodwill Zwelithini on March 20, during an event hosted by the police ministry where he allegedly said foreigners should go back to their home countries.
According to the report, by March 25 there had been reported cases of attacks against foreigners, leaving about 400 people displaced.
These attacks were not confined to KZN, but spread to some other provinces as well. President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward then publicly came out in support of Zwelithini, telling media that South Africa was on a time bomb of foreigners taking over the country.
“The reason why I am saying that is because some of the foreigners are working for private security companies where they have been employed for cheap labour. These companies are running away from complying with South African labour laws,” he told News24 at the time.
The SRG found the immediate cause of the violent attacks “was the result of deliberate efforts to drive away competition by foreign national-owned businesses, and the trigger of the outbreak was perceptions of what occurred at KwaJeena’s Supermarket, Isipingo, at the end of March 2015” – which were later found by a government investigation to be without substance.
The violent attacks further exposed “deep seated antagonisms and misunderstanding within and between many of the province’s communities”, it said.
Also concerning was that similar violence had been experienced in South Africa eight years ago.
The Citizen revealed last year that government had been warned of the gravity of xenophobia through academic research 10 years ago – but it had turned a deaf ear to this.
Loren Landau, South African Research chair at the African Centre for Migration and Society, in reacting to the report said the question remained on whether government would take on challenges of xenophobia “when they haven’t – or haven’t effectively – for the past two decades”.