The African Diaspora Forum is concerned by what it regards as a lack of an effective response by the South African government to the issue of xenophobia. In an open letter to President Zuma, Minister of Home Afrairs, Malusi Gigaba and Minister of Police, Nkosinathi Nhleko this weekend, the organisation has pleaded for more accountability and for government to recognise attacks on foreign nationals as xenophobia and not to dismiss these as merely criminal.
To: His Excellency Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa
Cc: Minister of Home Affairs, Honorable Malusi Gigaba
Minister of Police, Honorable Nkosinathi Nhleko
We have been engaged in working for a society free of xenophobia and all forms of discrimination since 2008. At our level, with little resources, we have managed to reach out to communities in Alexandra, Orange Farm, Katlehong, Diepsloot, Thokoza, Primrose, etc. to appease the violence and build cohesive societies.
Today, we are deeply worried about the current course of violence across the country and the lack of effective response from the government to deal with xenophobia. The cost of the violence has been estimated to many losses of lives, millions of Rands lost during the looting and thousands of displacements since 2008. Moreover, the reputation of South Africa as a united and rainbow nation is now questionable.
Between 2008-2014, we have registered dozens of attacks on foreign nationals from various parts of South Africa. Although the police were deployed and are working tirelessly to restore peace, there are no accountability structures for perpetrators. We appeal to you to assist in building structures that can restore cohesion and peace in our respective communities.
Despite the escalation of violence over the past six years causing numerous deaths, the government has denied that there is xenophobia in South Africa, always questioning the nature of this violence and attributing it to ‘crime’, instead of recognising it for what it is – xenophobic violence – i.e. crime targeting foreigners. We are still to hear top members of government condemning the current xenophobic violence. This attitude, from our perspective, has condoned the violence and allowed it to reach institutional heights, making things even more difficult for foreign nationals living in South Africa, but also for South Africans wishing for social peace and integration.
For example, we and several other organisations assisting migrants have reported high levels of corruption and inhumane treatment in government structures like Refugee Reception Offices and hospitals where migrants are treated like animals, but our concerns have received little attention.
Increasingly, stringent legislation makes it almost impossible for migrants to legally conduct business and reside in the country. Even migrants who want to comply are discouraged to do so by non-realistic regulations and impractical institutions. Far from diminishing migration, this only increases ‘illegal’ migrants in the country and fuels tensions.
It detracts the police services from fighting crime, and pushes them instead into tracking migrants who have been rendered illegal through the system and legislation. New rules barring foreigners from meaningfully participating in the economic and political life of South Africa are also fueling the division between residents in this country along nationality lines
An example of this is Gauteng legislation prohibiting foreigners from occupying executive positions in Community Policing Forum (CPF).
It is unfortunate that government has not put its full energy in creating a terrain where foreign nationals can access documentation, basic services, and protection as stipulated in the South African Constitution; where they can be encouraged and supported in meaningfully contributing to South African nation building. The South African government has instead created a favourable environment for the making of illegal immigrants (treated as ‘criminals’) in its impossible attempt to reinforce its border control.
As a result, the police and most of the governmental structures have entered to a war against foreigners instead of providing service to the population in terms of fighting real crime. That might explain why some foreigners hesitate to call the police when confronted with attacks, and resort to self-defence, leading to the dramatic consequences we are facing today.
We are not only back to a 2008 situation. We have done a lot of great works with some police officers in Gauteng, especially the Hillbrow Cluster, to improve lives of both South Africans and migrants locally: together we focused on fighting the real crime affecting the community. We would like this example of responsible policing to be rolled out around the country.
But in reality and in spite of these courageous efforts, we are worse off as a society than in 2008, as xenophobic attitudes and speeches have now penetrated state institutions and affected both the basis and the top of the state.
Besides the work of a few individual police officers, there are big issues with policing in the country. SAPS has an agreement with Home Affairs and often conducts joint operations to track illegal immigrants. SAPS officers on the ground, as a consequence, resort to the most xenophobic practices, in line with what has now become a disproportionate part of their mandate. Xenophobic behaviour and the attitudes of police officers, as well as the incitement to violence in communities, are constantly reported by our members.
City of Johannesburg officials in charge of economic development are also working with Home Affairs to try and track foreign informal traders, rather than focusing on a developmental agenda for informal traders that would benefit the whole society.
More symbolically, the City of Johannesburg refused to involve the City in hosting the World Social Forum on Migration, an international event held in Johannesburg in December 2014.
What a symbol for a City that aims to be the gateway to Africa!
We could multiply such examples.
Generally, why are politicians and state officials today arguing about the nature of the current violence, with no one condemning xenophobic behaviour, firmly and strongly? What are they waiting for?
His Excellency, we humbly request:
- A strong and unequivocal condemnation of xenophobic violence in all its forms;
- Any public official or politician making xenophobic statements should be held accountable and strongly sanctioned, as all officials and politicians have a leadership role to play;
- A focus on combating crime and fighting for social cohesion through job creation while allowing the contribution of migrants in formal and informal sector;
- Engagement at policy level, reconsidering migration policy, which would stop criminalising foreigners and emphasise the benefits of working together embracing diversity;
- Reconsidering the current focus on directing so many state’s efforts and resources tracking ‘illegal migrants’, and instead diverting state resources to real ills of the South African society – inequality, unemployment…etc.
We thank you for the attention you will give to this matter and we are looking forward to building a South Africa where migrants and South Africans can live together and build a better Africa for all.
On behalf of the African Diaspora Forum (ADF)
Marc Gbaffou, Chairperson. DM
Photo: Foreign businessmen flee Soweto following widespread unrest and looting in the area, Friday, 23 January 2015. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA