Xenophobic violence against foreign nationals in South Africa has worsened. South Africa witnessed widespread xenophobic attacks since 1994 in provinces such as Gauteng, Western Cape, Free State, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal. There has been this and much speculation of the causes and triggers of the violence. A number of reports have highlighted various issues contributing to xenophobia; some of which include poor service delivery and competition for resources. The type of leadership within communities might have an impact on whether or not xenophobic attacks occur in certain communities, which talks to issues of governance. The issue is not only about foreign nationals and their rights, but about the safety of all who live in South Africa. Most incidents of violent attacks have been carried out by black South Africans.
The history of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa dates back to the 1980s when the country was home to a number of Mozambican refugees, an estimated 350,000, of whom approximately 20% have since returned home. South Africa did not recognise refugees until 1993 and when it became a signatory to the United Nations (UN) and Organisation of African Unity Conventions on Refugees in 1994. The number of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa has increased in the past years, puts the total number of cross-border migrants in this category at not more than 150 000. The issue regarding the number of undocumented migrants in the country has proved to be a controversial one in South Africa. Central to this debate is the unquantifiable nature of this group of migrants together with a number of credible myths widely accepted as reality in South African society.
South Africa is Africa’s most industrialised country, and it attracts thousands of foreign nationals every year, seeking refuge from poverty, economic crises, war and government persecution in their home countries. While the majority of them are from elsewhere on the continent, such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia, many also come from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Xenophobia is generally defined as ‘the deep dislike of non-nationals by nationals of a recipient state.’ This definition is also used by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). Xenophobia is also a manifestation of racism. Racism and xenophobia support each other and they share prejudiced discourses. They both operate on the same basis of profiling people and making negative assumptions. The profiling in the case of racism is on the basis of race, in the case of xenophobia on the basis of nationality.
When the xenophobic violence in South Africa occurred, the victims were not only foreigners in the sense of a different nationality are attacked but in fact everybody not belonging to the dominant ethnic groups in the main cities, Zulu or Xhosa, was attacked. Members of smaller ethnic groups in South Africa are also viewed as foreigners by fellow South Africans. White people are not viewed as foreigners in the context of xenophobic violence.There had been attacks on South Africans who 'looked foreign' because they were 'too dark' to be South African.
Reasons for the attacks differ, with some blaming the contestation for scarce resources, others attribute it to the country’s violent past, inadequate service delivery and the influence of micro politics in townships, involvement and complicity of local authority members in contractor conflicts for economic and political reasons, failure of early warning and prevention mechanisms regarding community-based violence; and also local residents claims that foreigners took jobs opportunities away from local south Africans and they accept lower wages, foreigners do not participate in the struggle for better wages and working conditions. Other local South Africans claim that foreigners are criminals, and they should not have access to services and police protection. Foreigners are also blamed for their businesses that take away customers from local residents and the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Other South African locals do not particularly like the presence of refugees, asylum-seekers or foreigners in their communities.
Cases of xenophobic attacks
In December 1994 and January 1995, armed youth gangs in the Alexandra Township outside of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, destroyed the homes and property of suspected undocumented migrants and marched the individuals down to the local police station where they demanded that the foreigners be forcibly and immediately removed. In September 1998, two Senegalese and a Mozambican were thrown from a moving train in Johannesburg by a group of individuals returning from a rally organised by a group blaming foreigners for the levels of unemployment, crime, and even the spread of AIDS. In the township of Zandspruit, a township in of Johannesburg, residents went on a rampage burning down shacks of Zimbabwean foreigners living in the settlement with the intention of driving out foreigners they claimed were stealing their jobs and causing crime.
In 2000, seven xenophobic killings were reported in the Cape Flats district of Cape Town. Kenyan Kingori Siguri Joseph died in Tambo Close, Khanya Park in Gugulethu after being attacked and shot. In separate incidents, two Nigerians were shot dead in NY 99 in Gugulethu. Prince Anya, 36, who owned a restaurant in Sea Point, was hijacked with his wife Tjidi and their toddler in Adam Tas Road, Bothasig. In Mdolomda Street in Langa, two Angolan brothers were trapped inside their house and burnt to death. Nguiji Chicola, 23, and Mario Gomez Inacio, 25, were in their house when it was set alight by several men who then ran away. The brothers burnt to death.
On May 11 2008, an outburst of xenophobic violence in the Johannesburg Township Alexandra triggered more xenophobic violence in other townships. Firstly, it only spread in the Gauteng province. After two weeks, the violence spread to other urban areas across the country, mainly Durban and Cape Town. But it also emerged in townships in more rural areas such as Limpopo Province. The violence consisted of attacks both verbally and physically by inhabitants of the townships on other inhabitants. The victims were called foreigners, referring to their nationality being non-South African and predominantly Zimbabwean and Mozambican.As a result many houses were burnt, 342 shops were looted and 213 burnt down. Hundreds of people were injured, thousands chased away and the death toll after the attacks stood at 56.
Mozambican Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave, who was 35 years old, was beaten, stabbed and set alight in Ramaphosa informal settlement on the East Rand. Nobody had been arrested for his horrible murder. Police closed the case on 27 October 2010 after concluding that there were no witnesses and no suspects. In all, 62 people were killed. On 24 May 2008, Spaza shops owned by Pakistan, Somalis, and Ethiopians were attacked, their stocks were looted and the doors ripped down. The looting was widespread in Sebokeng, Orange Farm, and Evaton areas South of Johannesburg.
From 14 to 17 November 2009, 3000 Zimbabwean citizens living in the rural community of De Doorns, an informal settlement near Breede Valley Municipality, in the Western Cape was displaced as a result of xenophobic violence. It selectively targeted Zimbabweans despite the presence of other foreign nationals (e.g. Lesotho nationals) living and working in the same area. There had been destruction and looting of Zimbabweans dwellings by their South African neighbours.
Violence occurred in three informal settlements: Ekuphumleni, Stofland and Hasie Square located in Ward 2 of De Doorns, Breede Valley Municipality, Western Cape. The first wave of attacks took place on 14 November 20009 in Ekuphumleni, displacing 68 Zimbabwean nationals. On 17 November 2009, the violence intensified, spreading to Stofland and Hasie Square. This second wave displaced approximately 3000 Zimbabweans. While the displaced initially sought protection at the De Doorns police station, they were moved to a local sports field called Hexvallei Sportklub on 18 November 2009 as numbers increased. Shelter and humanitarian assistance were provided at the sports field.
On 27 February 2013, eight South African police officers tied the 27 years old Mozambican man, Mido Macia, to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road. Subsequently, the man died in a police cell from head injuries. The incident happened in Daveyton, East of Johannesburg, South Africa. On 26 May 2013, two Zimbabwean men were killed by South Africans mob in xenophobic violence in Diepsloot, South Africa.
In January 2015, a Somali shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, Siphiwe Mahori, during an alleged robbery in Soweto Township. The boy was shot in the neck and died within 15 minutes. Lebogang Ncamla, 23, was another victim when he was shot three times in the arm. The incident triggered waves of attacks and looting of foreign owned shops. An estimated 120 Spaza shops owned by Somalis and Bangladeshis across Snake Park, Zola, Meadowlands, Slovoville, Kagiso, Zondi and Emdeni in Sowetowere looted. It was also reported that police actively stole goods and helped others raid the shops during the worst attacks on foreigners. In Zondi Section, the police instructed looters to queue outside a foreign-owned shop and allowed four of them in at a time to prevent a stampede. Police arrested a suspect accused of killed 14-year-old Mahori, along with a number of looters and foreign nationals for possessing three unlicensed firearms.
On 5 March 2015, xenophobic attacks occurred in Limpopo Province. Foreigners on the outskirts of Polokwane left their shops after protesting villagers threatened to burn them alive and then looted them. Violence erupted in the Ga-Sekgopo area after a foreign shop owner was found in possession of a mobile phone belonging to a local man who was killed. Villagers demanded answers as to how the shop owner got the killed man's phone. They didn't know whether it was sold to him or was brought there to be fixed. Violent protests erupted with villagers sending all the foreigners packing and pushing them out of 11 villages in Sekgopo. One of the shop owners reported loss of stock.
On 21 March 2015, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made comments that foreigners should go back to their home countries because they are changing the nature of South African society with their goods and enjoying wealth that should have been for local people. This horrified foreigners who have been dealing with a spate of xenophobic attacks around the country. King Zwelithini made these comments at the moral regeneration event in Pongola, Kwazulu Natal Province. The king’s statement came while Congolese nationals were mourning deaths caused by a series of xenophobic attacks. Noel Beya Dinshistia from Congo, a bouncer at a local nightclub, was doused in a flammable substance before being set alight while on duty two weeks ago.
On 8 April 2015, the spate of xenophobic violence increased. On 10 April 2015, two Ethiopian brothers were critically injured when their shop, in a shipping container, was set on fire while they were trapped inside. One of the men died while in hospital. The other is fighting for his life.
On 12 April 2015, Attacks on foreign nationals continued in KwaZulu-Natal when shops in Umlazi and KwaMashu, outside Durban, were torched. In V Section, a shop owned by a foreign national was set on fire by a mob of suspects. There was another fire which we believewas set by local people at a foreign-owned property in G Section. Almost 2,000 foreign nationals from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Burundi have been displaced as a result of the violence. Five people have been killed.
On 14 April 2015, Looting of foreign shops spread to Verulam, north of Durban following a day of clashes between locals, foreigners, and police in the city centre, KwaZulu-Natal. About 300 local people looted foreign-owned shops, and only two people have been arrested. A 14-year-old boy became the latest fatality. He was shot dead during looting in KwaNdlanzi, allegedly by two security guards. In Durban's Central Business District (CBD), a car was set alight and police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and teargas canisters in clashes between looters and foreigners.
Four refugee camps have been set up by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government to house the displaced foreigners who say they are destitute, with some saying they want to go home. At least 28 people were arrested on Sunday night during xenophobic violence in which Somali, Ethiopian and Pakistani people were attacked.
• Cornish, Jean-Jacques. (2015). South Africa: Xenophobic Attacks Erupt in South Africa's Limpopo Province. Available at: https://allafrica.com/stories/201503051136.html [accessed on 14 April 2015]
• IoL news. (2000). xenophobic attacks: seven die in one month. Available at: https://www.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/xenophobic-attacks-seven-die-in-one-month-1.45733#.VS4-LPCROYM [accessed on 15 April 2015]
• Misago, J, P. (2009). Violence, labour and displacement of Zimbabweans in De Doorns, Western Cape. Migration policy brief 2. Forced migration studies programme, University of the Witwatersrand.
• Nicolson, G and Simelane, BC. (2015). Xenophobia rears its head again: Looting, shooting, dying in Soweto. Available at: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2015-01-22-xenophobia-rears-its-head-again-looting-shooting-dying-in-soweto/#.VS4eg_CROYM [accessed on 15 April 2015]
• Valji, N. (2003). Creating the Nation: The rise of violent xenophobia in the New South Africa. Unpublished Masters Thesis, York University. Available at: https://csvr.org.za/old/docs/foreigners/riseofviolent.pdf [accessed on 14 April 2015]
• Wicks, J. (2015). KZN xenophobic violence spreads to KwaMashu. Available at: https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/KZN-xenophobic-violence-spreads-to-KwaMashu-20150413 [accessed on 14 April 2015]
• Hans, B. (2015). King’s anti-foreigner speech causes alarm. Available at:https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/king-s-anti-foreigner-speech-causes-alarm-1.1835602#.VSzaLPCROYM [accessed on 14 April 2015]
Donate and Make African History Matter
South African History Online is a non profit organisation. We depend on public support to build our website into the most comprehensive educational resource and encyclopaedia on African history.
Your support will help us to build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions in order to strengthen teaching, research and free access to our content.