Is there any xenophobia in South Africa?

South Africa had a very shameful history concerning the treatment of her own indigenous people, for this matter, as slaves were brought from South East Asia and politically active ones were exiled from overseas....

Is there any xenophobia in South Africa?

Jalal Rayi

A long time has passed since the first foreigners, colonialists and slaves were brought to South Africa. They settled in this land and contributed immeasurably. When colonialists found that they required the labor and skills which couldn’t be found in the indigenous people, they turned to their colonies overseas. Unfortunately South Africa had a very turbulent atmosphere within the country regarding the foreigners. In South Africa, people from all over the Africa, the Indian subcontinent and some European states have been victims of xenophobia.

South Africa had a very shameful history concerning the treatment of her own indigenous people, for this matter as mentioned above, as slaves were brought from South East Asia and politically active ones were exiled from overseas. Prior to apartheid in South Africa, people encountered great suffering and miseries at the hands of local authorities. This in turn shaped the local residents’ treatment of and attitude towards the foreigners. The discrimination that immigrants in South Africa faced wasn’t only by the local population, but it also came from the government authorities, such as policemen, bureaucrats and other officials. The majority of this hatred was derived from the institutionalized racism of the apartheid era.

Since the democratization of South Africa, in the words of Nelson Mandela, the country entered into the new democratic era, where blacks, whites, colored and Indians were all equal and supposed to set an example of a great, secular country to the world. Xenophobia is considered by all the nations as something which all the evils, hatred and racial discrimination stem from. Unfortunately xenophobia has not only been in emotional or verbal form, but it has even gone to the level of occassional violence. It is important now to all the South Africans to look back at their history and understand that, in today’s world where globalization, as a key driving factor in economic and cultural exchanges, plays an immense role in the social lives of citizens, it is necessary to put the feelings of hatred, jealousy and grudge aside.

In the pre-democratized South Africa, many foreigners from various parts of the African continent migrated to South Africa, with the purpose of escaping the hostilities and civil unrest in their native homeland. Following the series of attacks launched on Mozambique, 250,000-300,000 fled the country and settled in the black homelands of South Africa. However, they were never granted refugee status in the country. Another issue in the pre-apartheid era, was the victims of the civil war in Congo, as Congolese immigrants sought refuge in South Africa. These refugees have been mistreated by the local authorities who were motivated by xenophobia. 

In 1994, with the first democratic government of South Africa and the first black president Nelson Mandela, many immigrants started developing an opinion of a friendly and hospitable land, where they could search for better conditions of living than at home or they might find the great potential for new investments. But contrary to their expectations, the incidences of xenophobia had increased and many foreigners even considered fleeing the country. Especially with the establishment of the ANC government, peoples’ attitude towards the foreigners became harsher. According to the studies conducted based on the citizens’ survey, they still have a negative opinion towards foreigners. A quarter of the surveyed people favor the complete banning of foreigners and the majority consider that strict restrictions must be enforced in allowing foreigners to enter the country.

These foreigners in South Africa are being blamed for the crime, unemployment and spread of AIDS. Between 2000 and 2007, more than 60 foreigners and 20 South Africans were killed. Also foreigners mostly complain about mistreatment by the police. They claim that policemen steal from them and accuse them of being involved in crime. Studies also based on the attitudes of police forces towards the immigrants found out that more than 80% of undocumented immigrants are involved in crime and drug dealing. In the democratic South Africa, many cases of mistreatment of foreigners have been observed. They have been assaulted due to them being undocumented migrants and were forced into police stations in order to clear towns from migrants. There has been a great hatred towards Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans and recently Senegalese and Somalis. Especially in 2006, Somali refugees cried out for protection after more than 20 Somali traders were murdered and a few months later 20 more were killed. They were claiming such acts were being motivated by xenophobia and the local authorities didn’t take the required action to protect them.

Even today many foreigners fall victim to xenophobic acts. After the Somali traders were killed, Pakistani and other foreign shop and small business owners have started fearing for their lives.

Still we hope that a country who gave humanity a great exemplary leader like Nelson Mandela will also be able to follow his legacy in the treatment of all human beings. Foreigners have always been an inseparable part of South African society. This country’s population consists of many mixed people who came to settle here from Europe, Asia and different parts of Africa. Now it will be a great disrespect to the whole nation to be inspired by xenophobia and act on these values.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 16 Aralık 2013, 17:42