World View: Xenophobic Violence Against Migrants Returns to South Africa

A man sits in his damaged car after it was smashed by residents of the worker's hostel in Jeppe's Town neighbourhood of Johannesburg on February 26, 2017. Violence flared up again around the restive hostels of Jeppe's Town, theatre of violence during the xenophobic violence of 2015. Shops and homes …

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Xenophobic violence against migrants returns to South Africa
  • South Africa threatens to crack down on businesses hiring illegal immigrants

Xenophobic violence against migrants returns to South Africa

Xenophobic violence targeting migrant-owned business last week (GhanaWeb)
Xenophobic violence targeting migrant-owned business last week (GhanaWeb)

Police in Pretoria, one of South Africa’s three capital cities, used rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades on Friday to break up clashes between local anti-immigrant protesters and migrants living and working in the area. Police arrested 136 people – many of them protesters and looters armed with clubs, sticks, pipes and rocks. In retaliation, migrants armed themselves with sticks and clubs too. The migrants are from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Pakistan and other countries.

Earlier this week, migrants were targeted in the suburbs of Pretoria and Johannesburg, where shops and businesses were burned or destroyed.

Officials fear a repeat of the massive xenophobic violence that occurred in 2008, when at least 60 people were killed. Atrocities including dragging migrants through the streets and burning them alive. In 2015, xenophobic violence resulted in six deaths in Durban.

As one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, South Africa draws migrants from poor countries who come to work or to escape violence. Nonetheless, the unemployment rate is over 25%, and migrants are blamed for taking jobs. Xenophobic violence frequently targets small shops and businesses run by migrants, claiming that they’re drug dens and brothels.

South African politicians encourage businesses to hire citizens rather than migrants, but many businesses hire migrants because they can be paid less and because they can be exploited in the sense of not being paid at all. LA Times and EyeWitnessNews (South Africa) and Mail and Guardian (South Africa) and The Nation (Kenya)

South Africa threatens to crack down on businesses hiring illegal immigrants

South Africa’s home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, announced that officials will inspect workplaces to see if firms are employing illegal immigrants.

If implemented, this would be a different strategy than is employed in America and other countries to deal with illegal immigrants, where law enforcement targets the migrants, often resulting in deportation. In this case, the businesses that hire the migrants will be targeted.

According to Gigaba:

Companies, businesses: Be warned. We are coming for you. We will charge them, there’s no doubt. The manager will be charged. Often times, we focus on the undocumented employee and not the company.

This is the message we are taking to the rest of business and it will feature strongly in our upcoming meetings. There will be workplace inspections, and penalties for employing undocumented foreigners will be imposed. …

The dynamics of migration, crime, drugs, prostitution, fraud and unfair labor practices are too serious to be turned into populists politicking.

Even businesses that hire legal immigrants may be targeted. Gigaba has particularly been targeting hotels, restaurants, and other businesses where migrants are often employed. According to Gigaba, “We have a commitment of the hospitality sector on the need to comply with South Africa’s labor and immigration laws, especially the requirement to employ a minimum 60 percent of local people.”

Gigaba also called for effective policing to target illegal immigrants, but added, “Not all immigrants are criminals.”

Whether any of this will be implemented remains to be seen. It is more likely that nothing will be done, and there will be recurring rounds of xenophobic violence. Africa’s history is one of tribal wars, and many of today’s xenophobic attacks are based on tribal hatreds that exist to this day following the Mfecane, the huge war that engulfed southern Africa in the 1820s. The principal combatants in the Mfecane were the Ndebele, Zulu and Xhosa tribes, and they still experience violent tribal and xenophobic clashes to this day News 24 (South Africa) and BBC and Daily Post (Nigeria)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, South Africa, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Malusi Gigaba, Mfecane, Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa
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