Foreigners in South Africa are being “scapegoated for the failures of government and the global economic system”, yet attacks on foreigners are not being recognised as xenophobia, according to academics and organisations.
A march against foreign nationals organised by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents is expected to take place in Tshwane on Friday – after a number of foreigner-owned shops and properties were attacked in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, and Mamelodi in the last few days.
Prior to this, residents of Rosettenville in Joburg earlier this month burnt down as many as 12 houses suspected to be drug dens or brothels, owned by foreign nationals.
Addressing media on Thursday, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said among the recurring themes related to xenophobic violence were that there “had been contestation over scarce resources in a climate of unemployment, poverty and other socioeconomic challenges”.
He added: “There is nobody in South Africa who has attacked someone purely on the basis of them being from another country.
“Whenever there have been incidents, they were sparked by something and then they blow up.
“Once you have mob violence it becomes very difficult to contain when the tempers are flying high.”
Loren Landau, SA research chair in mobility and the politics of difference at the African Centre for Migration and Society, said although Gigaba was right to point out the multiple causes behind xenophobic violence, “when people burn a house because it belongs to a Zimbabwean or demand that all foreigners leave a settlement, regardless of what individuals have or have not done – that is a crime shaped by hate.
“Yes, their frustrations may be rooted in economic conditions, insecurity or poor service delivery, but they are identifying targets because of who they are, not what they have done.
“Foreigners are being scapegoated for the failures of government and the global economic system.
“People are barking up the wrong tree. Rather than directing their energy to addressing the source of their problems, they are being distracted.
“This is a gift to politicians and bureaucrats, who have failed to deliver on their promises and responsibilities.”
Government officials, in denying acts of xenophobia, had not wanted the world to see how fragmented South Africa has become, Landau added.
While perpetrators argued they were “reclaiming their communities”, victims were deemed guilty by association.
“Blaming a foreigner for a presumed offence committed by someone ‘like’ them is akin to holding all Muslims responsible for ISIS or all Jews responsible for mistreating Palestinians. If foreigners and outsiders are attacked because of who they are and not what they, individually, have done, that is xenophobia.”
He said research conducted since the xenophobic violence which erupted in 2016 in Durban showed that this has become a normalised part of political discourse and political control.
Africa Diaspora Forum’s Marc Gbaffou said government needed to acknowledge a problem with xenophobia in order to find solutions. But it did not “want to look bad in the international community. Until government acknowledges this, we will not root out people who are xenophobic.”