AP Photo/Themba Hadebe


xenophobic violence flares up in south africa

September 6, 2019

There are dangerous anti-immigrant sentiments brewing all over the world, and South Africa is the latest example. Earlier this week, Johannesburg saw a wave of violent attacks against immigrants that left at least seven dead, and wreaked havoc on Pretoria’s business district. In light of the violent attacks against Nigerian immigrants, Nigeria has pulled out of an African economic summit that was planned to take place in South Africa, and several Nigerian artists have used their voices to say no to the xenophobia they say is spreading there.

According to the Right2Now, a leading SA activist and advocacy campaign, a major contributing factor to the violence against immigrants in South Africa is due to rising use of populist rhetoric by the country’s politicians. “There is a dangerous emerging trend of xenophobic populism that leads to attacks on foreign nationals. In 2015, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini’s speech, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 2019 election campaign pronouncements, the Minister of Health’s comments on the strain placed on health services by foreign migrants, and the xenophobic blaming for Johannesburg’s ill by Mayor Herman Mashaba have been followed by xenophobic attacks in different localities.”

This xenophobia rhetoric is already ubiquitous among many in South Africa. A survey on Afrobarometer, which tracks the country’s democracy, governance, and society, anti-immigrant sentiments are rampant across the country: “Whilst South Africans are somewhat more welcoming to exceptionally skilled migrants and foreign investors, their stated attitudes make the country one of the most intolerant, with respect to foreign immigrants, among African countries surveyed by Afrobarometer. Though divided in their attitudes toward foreigners, citizens are largely united in disapproving of the government’s efforts to address immigration challenges.”

South Africa is hardly alone. In the United States, anti-immigrant stances have become the norm in national politics. The ADL found that hostility toward immigrants has become louder, thanks in part to those attitudes having platforms within federal, state and local governing bodies. Anti-immigrant fervor, once relegated to more extreme quarters, has been increasingly mainstreamed in the last decade. Over the last two years, with the arrival of a new administration focused on much stricter immigration policies and complementary executive actions, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment has made life substantially more difficult for all foreigners living in the country. And the rise of xenophobia often carries violent consequences for all marginalized people.

Once someone starts blaming immigrants for their problems, it creates a cycle of disdain that often erupts in violence. Somadoda Fikeni, a policy and political analyst at the University of South Africa, told Al Jazeera,”The issue of foreign nationals, blaming them for many things which are not going well in the country and also the law enforcement and the economic conditions in the country, all of these combined, if not managed well, then create this cyclical tension between foreign nationals and locals, especially those who are in the margins because the middle class and those who are in the upper class, you hardly ever hear of such tension getting into this level.”

Xenophobia isn’t just a set of theoretical beliefs. It foments violence and gets people killed.