Africa outraged by renewed attacks in SA

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

Recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa have outraged Africans across the continent with some urging the African Union to decisively deal with the matter to stop the continued bloodshed.

Gruesome videos of South African nationals attacking helpless alleged immigrants with rocks and machetes went viral on social media forcing policy makers, artists, academics and former presidents to condemn the acts as antithetical to African sensibilities.

The violence, which took place last Friday, was sparked by an anti-immigrant march in Pretoria and parts of Johannesburg organised by a group calling itself “Mamelodi Concerned Residents” who accused immigrants of taking their jobs and fueling crime and prostitution.

Although the South African government warned nationals against taking the law into their own hands, many believe more needed to be done to stop the continued unprovoked attacks on foreign nationals.

Nigeria last Monday reportedly urged the African Union to step in to stop the xenophobic attacks on its citizens and other nationals in South Africa.

In a story broadcast on eNCA television this week, the Nigerian government claimed about 116 of its citizens had been killed, including 20 last year. A senior presidential aide on Nigeria foreign affairs, Abike Dabri-Erewa, emailed the eNCA saying: “This is unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria.”

The Nigeria Union in South Africa claims that about 800, 000 Nigerians live in South Africa, with the majority of them living in Johannesburg.

In a telephone interview, Zimbabwe’s ambassador Isaac Moyo said the embassy was seized with the matter and had engaged the South African government.

He, however, said there were so far no reports of Zimbabweans killed or injured in the recent xenophobic violence. Ambassador Moyo said the South African government had assured African diplomats that immigrants would be protected and any criminal acts against foreign nationals would be dealt with.

Despite assurances from Ambassador Moyo, Zimbabweans living in South Africa recently engaged the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and its political allies to intervene.

Chairperson of the Zimbabwean Community in South Africa, Nqgabutho Mabhena, said there was a third force behind the attacks and blamed some opposition parties of trying to destabilise the neighbouring country under the ANC government.

In comments published in our Bulawayo-based sister paper, The Chronicle, Mabhena said; “In our view, the xenophobic attacks are well co-ordinated and political. Opposition parties which are fighting the ANC government want to make South Africa ungovernable and they are mobilising communities to attack foreigners. We have engaged ANC, Cosatu and the Southern African National Civic Organisation to help address the problems since (they) have branches in those communities.”

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki also condemned the attacks on immigrants.

Prominent South African comedian Trevor Noah also weighed in condemning the attacks as misplaced.

In a post on his Twitter handle, Noah said out of 2.3 million immigrants in South Africa only 1.6 million are Africans while others are Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indians, Middle Easterners and Europeans not born in that country.

“The 1.6 million Africans mostly run small shops, vending, service industries etc. They may lay claim to less than 0.00001 percent of wealth in South Africa.

“Whites in South Africa make up about 8.7 percent of the population and control over 85 percent wealth….there are about 6 000 European families who own over 85 percent of agricultural lands and so when I hear South Africans claiming that other Africans are competing with them on dwindling, scarce resources, I say your anger is misplaced.

“African immigrants don’t own lands, don’t run companies, don’t owning mining companies, don’t operate trophy hunting companies, do not ship out capital to European banks,” says Noah.

Popular Zimbabwean artiste Albert Nyathi said he understood South African anger particularly towards certain criminal elements among foreign nationals.

“If you are a visitor to any country, you must observe the laws of that country. We must as Zimbabweans be able to critically introspect and be able to evaluate if there is something that we are doing which is wrong,” said Nyathi.

Nyathi said the bigger question had to do with regional economic transformation.

He said as long as other regional economies remain subservient to the South African economy, people would always leave their countries for greener pastures.

University of Zimbabwe academic Dr Obvious Vengeyi said what lies beneath the recent xenophobic attacks are residual inequities from the apartheid era and the failure of the new government in correcting those inequities.

“There is the problem of unemployment in South Africa. Ironically, more people are in fact being employed than before, but the unemployment rate has risen because the available labour force has grown more rapidly than the rate at which people have found employment,” said Dr Vengeyi.

Dr Vengeyi said the issue of black-on-black violence needed a holistic regional approach as suggested by the Nigerian government.

“We can no longer treat this issue as a mere South African domestic issue. It needs to be dealt with at regional and continental level. We need to transform our economies so much so that we don’t exert much pressure on an individual country,” Dr Vengeyi said.

March 2017
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