South Africa: The Stubborn Xenophobia in South African Society

South Africans have unleashed deadly waves of xenophobia on migrants from elsewhere in Africa since 2008. Fear is in the air once more as mobs prowl some places searching for undocumented migrants.

The recent rape of eight women at a mine dump in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, has reignigted xenophobic sentiment in South Africa.

The women were filming a music video when they were set upon by dozens of men, robbed and raped.

The incident triggered wide public outrage. In Krugersdorp and nearby communities mobs helped police in raids to identify and arrest more than 100 suspects.

Some of them are undocumented migrants from Lesotho and other neighboring countries.

Blaming migrants for crime

The Krugersdorp incident triggered wide public outrage and protests. The level of xenophobic rhetoric on social media also spiked.

In Krugersdorp, mobs burned shacks that house people from other parts of Africa, Some of the migrants were assaulted, others were stripped naked and paraded through streets.

The residents blame undocumented migrants for crimes in the area. Some openly vowed to take the law into their own hands.

Analysts have warned that the developments in Krugersdorp could trigger xenophobic violence in other parts of the country.

South African Raul Ndanduleni told DW that he believes people from elsewhere in Africa are the source of crime and unemployment.

“They are committing human trafficking, car hijacking,” he said. “They are doing robbing syndicates.”

South Africa’s borders are notoriously porous, and illegal migration has been a problem for authorities for decades.

Ndanduleni believes that it is difficult for the state and law enforcement agencies to identify migrants who break the law. “Because we don’t have the fingerprints of those illegal immigrants, he said.

“So,” he said, “they must go home.”

Calls for migrants to leave

Manhlo Hadebe wants all foreign nationals to be sent to their own countries. In an interview with DW, the 60-something South African said: “Legal or illegal, they are all committing crimes.”

The focus, she said, should not be on undocumented migrants alone. “Those who are legal commit crimes, too,”she said. “It’s just that they are like wolves in a sheep skin.”

A vigilante-style group called Operation Dudula, which translates as “chase out,” has been targeting companies and street markets around the country. Its supporters are demanding that African migrants pack up and leave.

The group known as Khala Mntwana has been advocating for undocumented migrants to be deported. Its leader, Veli Madondo, told DW that citizens are forced to take the law into their own hands because the government has failed to act.

“Let them go to their countries so that there can be more job creations, there can be more business creations because they are even taking our businesses,” Madondo said.

Some migrants “do as they please here,” he alleged. “So let them go. They will come to South Africa when there is a reason, a purpose to be here.”

Big immigration problem

Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has acknowledged that South Africa has a big immigration problem. He told DW that actions by the state to address the issue are often interpreted as xenophobic.

“The unfortunate part is that, whenever we raise these issues, you are branded a xenophobe,” Motsoaledi said.

“It has nothing to do with xenophobia,” he added. “This is real that immigration needs to have some form of policy where all South Africans participate.”

Xenophobia often turns deadly in South Africa. The violence is often triggered by or pinned to talk of a shrinking economy and rising unemployment.

Edited by:Benita van Eyssen

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