Johannesburg - The sporadic but unremitting attacks on foreigners in South Africa could lead to renewed xenophobic violence, reaching serious proportions last seen in 2008, unless the government demonstrated the willpower to protect immigrants.
This is the stern warning from Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher at Wits University’s African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS).
“Xenophobic violence is taking place as we speak. It may not be at the same scale as in 2008, but it is continuing and claiming more lives than it did in 2008,” Misago said yesterday.
A spate of attacks on foreign migrants has continued since the xenophobic violence of 2008 ended, despite assurances by the SAPS that conditions were favourable for the displaced immigrants to return to their respective communities.
At an ACMS seminar on the xenophobic violence last week, speakers highlighted the grim reality that the prospects of effectively eradicating xenophobia would remain slim unless access to education, health care and other essential services was improved.
“No society can sustain social cohesion with so many people, especially young people, living with no jobs, no income and no hope. The demons of xenophobia will be unleashed,” Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said.
On Monday Misago reiterated this warning.
“There is nothing on the ground to prevent what happened in 2008. The signs are very clear and there are no preventive measures in place,” he said.
“If people give you the ultimatum to leave, it is a serious threat and you will leave.”
Misago noted that current trends showed that the violence was slightly different from 2008 in that foreign business people were mostly being targeted.
“In 2008, all foreigners were attacked and it was widespread. Now, foreign traders are being attacked by local business associations who see the businesses as illegitimate.”
More disconcerting, Misago said, was that the government did not seem to have learnt from its “timid” approach in 2008.
“In 2008 there was denial that the violence was not xenophobia but pure criminality. That is still the same thing we are seeing now.
“The police don’t interfere because they see it as crime. Even so, theirs is more of a reactive response than a proactive one,” said Misago.
Instead, he added, the government’s response had actually been supportive of perpetrators’ intentions to remove the foreigners from their communities.
“People are attacking foreigners with impunity because the motivation is still there. What we have seen is a lack of sustainable political will and a lack of accountability. Instead of protecting communities, the first move is to say ‘go back to your own country’.”
Misago, however, lauded the government for its quick and decisive responses, although only in some instances.