In the aftermath of the violent wave of attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa, civil society and political opportunists have been staging anti- xenophobia protests this past week.
While those maimed by the senseless attacks that have claimed at least seven lives have welcomed the gesture, the victims nevertheless believe it was too little too late and that the government is not doing enough to address the problem. In a nutshell foreign nationals are apprehensive. They do not believe the marches can turn the tide on the hatred visited upon them and the violence that goes with it especially at the country’s richest province of Gauteng’s shanty towns. “We are not taking jobs from locals. We use innovation to grow our small businesses,” says Prince a Congolese national who sells an assortment of textile products around the Centurion Mall.
In the suburbs such as Centurion however, there have never been any reported incidences of attacks on African migrants which have gripped the Gauteng townships such as Alexandra, Diepkloof, Kagiso, Naledi and many more. It is not difficult to see why xenophobic attacks are endemic to the Gauteng province. With some 65 townships sprawling the province, Gauteng, the richest province in South Africa, has a P1 trillion economy that contributes 36% to the country’s GDP (gross domestic product) and is the biggest employer of 4.88 million people. The province accounts for more than 10% of Africa’s GDP and is the Gateway to Africa. Everyone wants to find an opportunity of some kind in the province including drug peddlers. Places like Hillbrow and Yeoville in Johannesburg are notorious for being save havens for drug lords. Occasionally the police bust them but somehow the illicit trade still thrives.
The Gauteng Provincial government has blamed apartheid structured economy for the economic hardships faced by township dwellers. With foreigners competing with the citizens, and the government’s lack of urgency in correcting the economic structure, the frustrations on citizens are meted out on foreign entrepreneurs trading in the townships.
Gauteng Premier David Makhura during the state of the province address two months ago identified racialised monopoly sector, subdued role of SMMEs dominance of unskilled and semi-skilled labour, skewed income distribution, apartheid economic geography and spatial qualities as structural economic problems facing the province. He promised to grow manufacturing and industrialisation through the processing of minerals , change ownership patters by bringing black people into the economy among others. Since the violence broke out in Kwa-Zulu Natal allegedly incited by a powerful chief, more powerful than the President perhaps, four weeks ago, the government has made assurances to the international community that it is bringing the situation under control.
Zuma told journalists this past week during a press briefing that South Africans are not xenophobic amid the renewed xenophobic violence that began in 2008. “We have lived with foreign nationals side by side for many decades” he said. Meanwhile the South African government has praised commends the South African Police Service (SAPS) and members of the Alexandra community who assisted the police to arrest three suspects who are allegedly linked to the murder of Mozambican national Emmanuel Sithole. The police are still looking for the fourth suspect.
The events of the stabbing were captured by a Sunday Times photographer James Oatway who was on an assignment on Saturday. The newspaper has reported that in most cases perpetrators of xenophobic violence were never brought to justice. Acting Cabinet Spokesperson Phumla Williams said: “The police should be commended for their swift action following a tip-off by members of the community. The suspects are due to appear in court, and we call for the wheels of justice to turn. The police have also apprehended more than 300 people involved in attacks against foreign nationals.
Government appeals to all communities to continue working with law enforcement agencies to ensure that the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to book.” Williams added: “South Africans and civil society organisations are encouraged to partner with government in creating a safer and healthier environment for our communities to thrive. It is the responsibility of every community in South Africa, to work together with government, towards social cohesion and nation building.” In the aftermath of the attacks mostly directed at Ethiopian, Nigerian, Somali and Mozambican nationals, the government held a crisis meeting with diplomats from other African countries.
The Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, met with the representatives of the African countries to assure them of South Africa’s commitment to ensure peaceful co-existence between South African citizens and people from other African nations who live in South Africa. Part of a statement released by the government read: “During the Apartheid many South Africans fled persecution and death at the hands of the Apartheid government. Africa opened its doors and became a home away from home for many South Africans. The Diplomatic Community has been assured of our commitment to resolve the tensions and to continue to build our relations with Africa”. With the economic structural problems identified by the government still in existence, which are seen as the root cause of the frustration on citizens, the xenophobic attacks on African migrants seem destined to be a permanent horror movie which comes in episodes the suspense however being when the next episode is likely to appear.