Cape Town - Foreigners living in South Africa say they continue to live in fear as rhetoric around them worsens and politicians fuel the flames of discord.
With elections around the corner, the issue around South Africa’s immigration policies has emerged at the forefront with different political parties offering their own stance on how the country should tackle the inflow of foreigners into our borders and how to deal with those already living in the country illegally.
The DA and ANC have called for the tightening of borders and measures to ensure the number of undocumented migrants were controlled.
In recent weeks, attacks on foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Limpopo have, however, awakened fears among immigrant communities across the country.
“I have weathered xenophobic attacks and insults against me and my family enough times to know that we are not safe here. We are caught between a rock and a hard place, because we can’t go home due to the financial situation there.
“I have three children and my wife living with me here, who know no other home other than this one.
“Even my youngest was born here, but they are ridiculed and called makwerekwere.
“Whenever we see these things on TV and what is happening in KwaZulu-Natal, we are scared because we know it takes very little for South Africans to turn on us.
“My wife came home crying last week after overhearing a group of men were laughing and joking about how the only way to get rid of us would be to lock us in a shack and burn us alive, like they did with criminals in the township,” he said.
Head of the Justice and Violence Prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Gareth Newham said research backs up the finding that most South Africans harbour xenophobic views and it takes very little to spark attacks.
“There is, unfortunately, a high level of xenophobic sentiments in South Africa, a good source for this is research by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation that looks at South Africans’ views on African foreign nationals and the 2016 report showed that a majority of people who polled in those, 56% said they don’t trust African foreign nationals and only 17% said they do trust them and the remainder said they were not sure.
“Another 40% said they would take action to stop African foreign nationals from establishing businesses and accessing services in their areas, and 20% said they would want the government to remove all African foreign nationals, regardless of their legal status.
“Myths such as foreign nationals are taking jobs, they are getting married to South African woman to get legal status and are involved in drugs and crime, and those are often as a result of people’s fears in what it means to have foreign nationals living in a country.
“And even if you were able to kick out every foreign national out of the country, we would still be sitting with a 27% rate of unemployment and a very high murder and robbery rates,” Newham said.
He said political statements by parties out to get votes often mislead the public - instead of focusing on solving the problem.
“When political parties start making statements like ‘in order to be safe and secure we have to strengthen border security and get rid of undocumented foreign nationals’, they are pretty much being dishonest and distracting the population from the very difficult task of growing the economy.
“It’s only when people like (Joburg mayor) Herman Mashaba and others make statements about our hospitals and put the blame on foreign nationals. Those statements only fuel xenophobia because it gives justification to those people who think (Health Minister) Aaron Motsoaledi knows what is happening and take it is proof,” Newham said.