“Social justice cannot be attained by violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.”
– Pope John Paul II
2008– “By today, 22 people have been murdered in orchestrated attacks by groups of South Africans against immigrants in poor townships around Johannesburg. The victims are mainly Zimbabwean immigrants. News reports quote the attackers as saying the immigrants are “job stealers”.”
South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from neighbouring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. But others come from South Asia and Nigeria looking for work.
Fast Forward to September 2019, violence has erupted, souring ties between South Africa and Nigeria; officials reported that several Nigerian Businesses were attacked and burned down. This being referred to as Xenophobic attacks.
The African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General, Ace Magashule has denied the existence of Xenophobia in South Africa, instead saying it is just criminality that has taken over.
Magashule addressed members of SA Students Congress (SASCO) at the Tshwane University of Technology on Wednesday 4th September, ahead of the university’s student representative council elections the following day. “What I know, which is factual, is that our presidents, the presidents of Africa are talking, and they have analysed this correctly. They know what is happening. It is not acts of xenophobia, it’s acts of criminality,” said Magashule to journalists at the side-lines of the SASCO’s election rally. He further described some of the acts as “tribal battles”.
According to the police, five people have died in the violence that has spread around Johannesburg. The nationalities of the deceased have not been released and the circumstances of the deaths remain unclear as police battle to contain the situation.
Parallels have quickly been drawn between now and 2008, when dozens of people were killed in the first major wave of violence targeting foreign nationals in South Africa.
But as then and during a more recent flare-up of migrant-directed unrest in 2015 – officials are hesitant to use the word that has often come to characterise the relations South Africans are accused of sharing with foreigners: xenophobia.
“For me, this is nothing more than pure criminality with people using Xenophobia as an excuse,” Police Minister Bheki Cele told reporters on Jules street, as he visited affected areas in the inner city following the arrest of 189 suspects during law enforcement operations.
There are no studies to confirm if foreign nationals coming to South Africa affect the economy or society negatively and whether they are disproportionately involved in crime.
From a poll conducted by Pew Research, an American research firm based in Washington, 62% of South Africans viewed immigrants as a burden on society by taking jobs and social benefits while 61% of South Africans thought that immigrants were more responsible for crime than other groups. (Standard Media, n.d.)
Possibly, the nation has not fully healed from the wounds inflicted by the Apartheid system. Apartheid-made laws forced the different racial groups to live separately and develop separately, and grossly unequally too. It tried to stop all inter-marriage and social integration between racial groups. During apartheid, to have a friendship with someone of a different race generally brought suspicion upon you, or worse.
But this changed in the 20th Century, with the fight against apartheid in South Africa unifying Africa around the galvanising ideology of Pan-Africanism.
The government of South Africa has been exposed in its inability to serve its people. The locals feel neglected and therefore at times blame migrants for their social and economic status. If majority of African governments continue to misgovern their countries, South Africa cannot cope to absorb millions of economic migrants. There is bound to be conflict amongst the locals and foreigners for crumbs of the economic cake.
However these violent attacks may be defined, they go against the values of integrity and respect, therefore, should be highly condemned and an end be put to them.