JOHANNESBURG – FACED with the dire possibility of isolation by fellow African nations, and recent criticism by the global community for some of its citizens’ disdain of foreign nationals, South Africa must merely go beyond just condemning xenophobia and prosecute perpetrators of the bigotry.
For the better part of the past decade characterised by intermittent attacks on foreign nationals, the government in the continent’s economic powerhouse has only paid lip service- condemning the violence but doing little, if anything, to bring the attackers to book.
The head-in-the-sand approach has provided fertile ground for the assailants to terrorise vulnerable foreign nationals at will.
Among the architects of the brutality that have evaded punishment are the perpetrators of the xenophobic violence that left more than 60 foreign nationals dead in 2008 with more than 200, 000 others displaced.
At least 12 people have been killed in the latest outbreak as local mobs again ran berserk, attacking foreign nationals, looting their properties and demanding that foreign nationals leave the country.
In one of the most gruesome attacks, a mob in the impoverished Katlehong suburb, east of Johannesburg, beat, stoned and burnt a Zimbabwean.
Police also recovered two charred bodies, also thought to be Zimbabweans with two others yet to be identified, at a shop that was razed down in the same area.
Again, the source of the anger was that foreigners were behind the crime and unemployment badly affecting South Africa.
The dozen killed is among over 140 people, mostly individuals from other African nations, killed since South Africa attained majority rule in 1994. The independence was gained partly through sacrifices and support by fellow African nations, some including neighbouring Zimbabwe that also bore the brunt of the cruel apartheid regime at its peak in the late 1980s.
Statistics indicate that between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
This recent violence followed hard on the heels of attacks on foreign truck drivers. Since March, over 75 attacks on foreign truck drivers and their cargo have been reported.
Once more, government has condemned the violence but human rights groups are peeved this is now a too-familiar, lackadaisical, response.
“Merely condemning xenophobic violence is not enough to stop it,” lamented Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
He said the lack of effective policing to protect foreign nationals and their properties spurred the vicious cycle of xenophobic violence.
Mavhinga said when the attackers were not held to account, others would not be deterred from perpetuating the cycle.
“South Africa should prioritise and guarantee the safety and security of victims and ensure that the attackers are held to account,” he said.
The spate of attacks have posed a diplomatic headache for the administration of South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, coincidentally one of the members of the African National Congress (ANC) forced into exiled during the darkest moments of South Africa prior to independence.
Besides some reprisal attacks against South African firms operating outside its borders, the country has seen hundreds of nationals from neighbouring countries and long-time rival, Nigeria, begrudgingly leaving.
Mourners at the funeral of late ex-Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, who was revered for his pan-African stance in the face of imperial hostility, booed Ramaphosa as he paid his condolence speech in Harare.
Cutting a sorry figure, as all other dignitaries received standing ovations, Ramaphosa would subsequently deviate from his prepared speech and offer an apology.
“I stand before you as a fellow African to express my regret and apologise for what has happened in our country,” a humiliated Ramaphosa implored.
This week, Jackson Mthembu, Minister in the South African Presidency, backed his principal’s position on government’s stance against xenophobia.
“The xenophobic violent attacks on our fellow African brothers and sisters have damaged our reputation and our standing as a country. We must stop these attacks whilst at the same time addressing the underlying factors,” Mthembu said.
Mavela Masondo, police spokesperson for Gauteng, the hotspot of the latest round of xenophobia, said more than 900 people had been arrested for the recent spate of crimes, including attacks against foreign nationals and their properties.
“The law will have no mercy for perpetrators of crime, including those who incite violence amongst our community,” he assured.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the African Union Commission chairperson, reiterated the bloc’s continued commitment to support South African in addressing the root causes of xenophobia.
Economic disparities between the poverty-stricken majority blacks and the minority whites still dominating the economy despite the end of apartheid 25 years ago are cited as the basis of the unrest in the country of an estimated 58 million people.
– CAJ News