Durban - Interventions by the government could eradicate xenophobia within a year, according to a University of KwaZulu-Natal academic.
Samuel Fikiri Cinini, a lecturer in criminal justice and forensic investigation, told the Independent on Saturday that South Africa needed to make xenophobia a crime, create a panel of African foreigner representatives and appoint a branch of the police to deal with matters relating to this.
A foreigner from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cinini lists these recommendations in his recent doctoral thesis, “A Criminological Analysis on the Safety and Security of African Foreign Nationals in Durban”.
“If there was this law, people would fear doing it. But they don’t and that’s why they do it,” he said.
“There’s no punishment attached to it. People are free to kill, loot and damage and it’s just xenophobia. It should be considered not just an attitude, but a crime.”
Cinini further called for the establishment of a representative body with which the government could consult and “get to know the challenges and together come up with suggestions and solutions to assist these people to live with human rights”.
“My thesis also suggests that the government should create a new police branch dealing with foreign nationals and that police should be trained in terms of migration and fully empowered so that they can deal with migrants.”
Cinini challenged the perception that foreigners took jobs away from locals, saying they were excluded from the government sector and usually did not have access to the private sector because broad-based black economic empowerment was an obstacle to them.
Competition was, therefore, more in the sector of casual work.
He recommended that ward councillors be trained to educate South Africans that their country was a signatory to many treaties, meaning that foreigners had access, that many were refugees from wars and oppression and were legally in the country.
“There are no refugee camps here. Foreign nationals go into the open community.”
He also questioned why there was xenophobia in South Africa and not in other African countries where there were also significant populations of non-resident Africans.
Cinini said that while it was true that some were involved in the illegal drug trade, it was only through corrupt government officials and police that drugs came into South Africa in the first place, especially at the Durban harbour.
He said that apart from politicians occasionally making xenophobic statements, the targeting of foreigners was the result of South Africans’ dependence on being close to government officials, through nepotism. They therefore did not target their frustration at the government but elsewhere.
“They are too scared of the government,” he said, adding that they feared targeting it would lead to their losing what service delivery they received.
That fear was, however, negligible to what he had lived through in his country when it was called Zaire, under the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
“Mobutu was killing people for any mistake they made.”
Cinini, who is from Bukavu in the eastern DRC - the same city as recent Nobel laurate Denis Mukwege - began his journey to South Africa in 2006 when he fled fighting between government forces and Congo Rally for Democracy rebels, he said.
Choosing South Africa “for its democracy”, he spent two years as a car guard, which he called a “safe place” for foreigners in South Africa.
“Locals don’t want that job but there is money in it.”
He said he was able to live frugally, send money home and save.
“It was not easy. You just have to know what you want, what you’re here for and who you are.”
On his savings, he studied a non-degree course in English at UKZN and eventually qualified for a student loan which he is now paying back, he said. In the process, he has also moved from sharing crammed inner-city accommodation to owning a flat on North Beach and acquiring a doctorate.