Xenophobia in South Africa After 1994

A policeman walks past a burning shack after xenophobia attacks in a Johannesburg squatter camp.

A policeman walks past a burning shack after xenophobia attacks in a Johannesburg squatter camp.

Despite a lack of directly comparable data, xenophobia in South Africa is perceived to have significantly increased after the installation of a democratic government in 1994. According to a 2004 study published by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP):

“The ANC government – in its attempts to overcome the divides of the past and build new forms of social cohesion… embarked on an aggressive and inclusive nation-building project. One unanticipated by-product of this project has been a growth in intolerance towards outsiders… Violence against foreign citizens and African refugees has become increasingly common and communities are divided by hostility and suspicion.”

The study was based on a citizen survey across member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and found South Africans expressing the harshest anti-foreigner sentiment, with 21% of South Africans in favour of a complete ban on entry by foreigners and 64% in favour of strict limitations on the numbers allowed. By contrast, the next-highest proportion of respondents in favour of a total ban on foreigners were in neighbouring Namibia and Botswana, at 10%.

Foreigners and the South African Police Service

A 2004 study by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) or attitudes among police officers in the Johannesburg area found that 87% of respondents believed that most undocumented immigrants in Johannesburg are involved in crime, despite there being no statistical evidence to substantiate the perception. Such views combined with the vulnerability of illegal aliens led to abuse, including violence and extortion, some analysts argued.

In a March 2007 meeting with home affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula a representative of Burundian refugees in Durban claimed immigrants could not rely on police for protection but instead found police mistreating them, stealing from them and making unfounded allegations that they sell drugs. Two years earlier, at a similar meeting in Johannesburg, Mapisa-Nqakula had admitted that refugees and asylum seekers were mistreated by police with xenophobic attitudes.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika


Xenophobia in South Africa


Xenophobia in South Africa

Prior to 1994 immigrants from elsewhere in Africa faced discrimination and even violence in South Africa, though much of that risk stemmed from the institutionalised racism of the time due to apartheid. After 1994 and democratisation, and contrary to expectations, the incidence of xenophobia increased, Between 2000 and March 2008 at least 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks. In May 2008 a series of riots left 62 people dead; although 21 of those killed were South African citizens. The attacks were apparently motivated by xenophobia.

Xenophobia in South Africa Before 1994

European immigration

Restrictions on immigration can be traced back to the Union of South Africa, with the different states adopting different policies on foreigners. A prejudice against immigrants from eastern and southern Europe (measured against the welcome of those from western and northern Europe) has been documented. In the Cape Colony the Cape Immigration Act (No 30) of 1906 set as requirement the ability to complete an application form in a European language (including Yiddish) and proof of £20 as visible means of support.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika


Related articles

Britain’s visa rules for South Africans ‘unfair’

A South African man with family in the UK has written to David Cameron to complain about how hard it is for him to visit.


A South African has written to complain to David Cameron about “unfair” visa rules which have stopped him visiting his family back in the UK.

The 80-year-old man says the process of applying for a visa is too arduous to undertake after immigration rules were tightened up three years ago.

The man, who wants to remain anonymous for fear of prejudicing a possible visa application should he change his mind, previously lived and worked in the UK before relocating to the outskirts of Johannesburg.

He regularly visited his Britain-based son, daughter and two aunts before the visa clampdown.

He said: “British nationals do not need a visa to visit South Africa, so why are South Africans not treated equally when they want to visit family and friends in Britain? We were good enough to fight for Britain’s freedom in the Second World War, but have been treated as second class citizens.”

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika Blog

International reaction to Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa

South African President Zuma gestures during a news conference in Pretoria

The attacks were condemned by a wide variety of organisations and government leaders throughout Africa and the rest of the world.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees expressed concerns about the violence and urged the South African government to cease deportation of Zimbabwean nationals and also to allow the refugees and asylum seekers to regularise their stay in the country.

Malawi began repatriation of some of its nationals in South Africa. The Mozambican government sponsored a repatriation drive that saw the registration of at least 3 275 individuals.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika

Domestic political reaction on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in South Africa


On 21 May, then-President Thabo Mbeki approved a request from the SAPS for deployment of armed forces against the attacks in Gauteng. It is the first time that the South African government has ordered troops out to the streets in order to quell unrest since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Several political parties blamed each other, and sometimes other influences, for the attacks. The Gauteng provincial branch of the ANC has alleged that the violence is politically motivated by a “third hand” that is primarily targeting the ANC for the 2009 general elections.  Both the Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, and the director general of the National Intelligence Agency, Manala Manzini, backed the Gauteng ANC’s allegations that the anti-immigrant violence is politically motivated and targeted at the ANC. Referring to published allegations by one rioter that he was being paid to commit violent acts against immigrants, Manzini said that the violence was being stoked primarily within hostel facilities by a third party with financial incentives.

Helen Zille, leader of the official opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA), pointed to instances of crowds of rioters singing Umshini wami, a song associated then-president of the ANC Jacob Zuma,  and noted that the rioters also hailed from the rank and file of the ANC Youth League. She alleged that Zuma had promised years before to his supporters to take measures against the immigration of foreign nationals to South Africa and that Zuma’s most recent condemnation of the riots and distancing from the anti-immigration platform was not enough of a serious initiative against the participation of fellow party members in the violence.  Both Zille and the parliamentary leader of the DA, Sandra Botha, slammed the ANC for shifting the blame concerning the violence to a “third hand”, which is often taken in South African post-apartheid political discourse as a reference to pro-apartheid or allegedly pro-apartheid organisations.

Zuma, in turn, condemned both the attacks and the Mbeki government’s response to the attacks; Zuma also lamented the usage of his trademark song Umshini wami by the rioters. Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe called for the creation of local committees to combat violence against foreigners.

Zille was also criticised by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel for being quoted in the Cape Argus as saying that foreigners were responsible for a bulk of the drug trade in South Africa.

In KwaZulu-Natal province, Bheki Cele, provincial community safety minister, blamed the Inkatha Freedom Party, a nationalist Zulu political party, for stoking and capitalising on the violence in Durban. Both Cele and premier S’bu Ndebele claimed that IFP members had attacked a tavern that catered to Nigerian immigrants en route to a party meeting. The IFP, which is based primarily in the predominately ethnically-Zulu KwaZulu-Natal province, rejected the statements, and had, on 20 May, engaged in an anti-xenophobia meeting with the ANC.

Grassroots social movements came out strongly against the 2008 xenophobic attacks calling them pogroms promoted by government and political parties.  Some have claimed that local politicians and police have sanctioned the attacks. They have also called for the closure of the Lindela Repatriation Centre which is seen as an example of the negative way the South African government treats African foreigners.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika

Somali Traders Arming Themselves To Defend Against Cape Town Gangs

South Africa2_2

Somalian traders have been arming themselves with illegal weapons to defend themselves against gangs of ruthless robbers in Cape Town`s townships.

Twelve of them have been killed in Khayelitsha alone – one of the largest townships in the province – in the past three months, according to Abdi Ahmed, a spokesman for the Somali Retailers` Association. “Our people are dying like dogs, and the government is doing nothing to stop it,” he said.

Three Somalis and an Ethiopian were shot dead in their stores in a 24-hour murder and robbery spree. Police discovered that a 9mm pistol was used in all the attacks between October 22 and 23.

Now the area has been flooded with illegal guns as the traders arm themselves.

Provincial police spokesman Colonel Billy Jones refused to divulge how many illegal weapons had been seized in the area.

The killing spree in October claimed the lives of Hassan Mohammed Essa, Hoesein Mahamud Arale, Abduragman Ali and Tegesa Ababo.

The Sunday Times has established that detectives and the Visible Policing Unit, tipped off that shopkeepers were arming themselves, have since raided Somali stores. They recovered five illegal firearms and arrested five Somalians.

One of the weapons was, according to SAPS (South African Police Service) records, listed as having been destroyed in the Eastern Cape. Yet the 9mm pistol was found in the possession of a Somalian, Abdiriskh Mohamed, 28, who had been in the country for only 14 days when he was arrested.

Said Ahmed: “We don`t condone or encourage the actions of the men, but we understand their desperation. We have to protect ourselves. We didn`t come to this country to commit crime. We came here to escape the killing in our own country.

“There are many Somali shopkeepers who have been shot more than once. The wound from the first shot doesn`t even have time to heal before they are shot and robbed again.”

One of the shop owners who survived two shootings, who wanted to be known only as Mahmoud, this week showed the Sunday Times the graves in Salt River cemetery of fellow countrymen.

The police blitz started on October 26 at Mazola Cash Store in Kuyasa, where a 7.65mm pistol and ammunition were found. The gun was reported stolen in November last year. Abdulah Weheliye, 56, was charged with possession of an illegal firearm.

On October 28, Aden Ismail Mohamed, 24, was arrested at Rwantsama Cash store in Enkanini, in Harare. They confiscated a 9mm pistol and ammunition. The pistol was stolen in a housebreaking in the Strand in June 2008.

On the same day, police held Abdulah Omar, 25, for possession of illegal ammunition at African Cash Store in Endlovini.

At Siya Cash Store in Enkanini, police found a 9mm pistol with its serial number filed off. Mohamed Dayah, 36, was arrested. Mohamed Omar, 29, was arrested at African Shop in Endlovini.

SGR vier Wêrelddag vir Vlugtelinge


Tydens die Algemene Vergadering op 4 Desember 2000 het die Verenigde Nasies 20 Junie as Wêrelddag vir Vlugtelinge verklaar, met die doel om bewustheid te skep oor die benarde posisie waarin vlugtelinge hulle bevind en steeds hul eie lande verlaat – nie uit eie keuse nie, maar as gevolg van gewapende konflik en politieke verdrukking.

In die lig van Wêrelddag vir Vlugtelinge wil die Sentrum vir Grondwetlike Regte, in die gees van ons Grondwet, ‘n beroep doen op die regering en alle Suid-Afrikaners om verdraagsaamheid en respek vir fundamentele regte, soos vervat is in ons Handves van Menseregte, na te streef en te vestig.

Suid-Afrika het beide die Konvensie met Betrekking tot die Status van Vlugtelinge van 1951 en die aanvullende Protokol met Betrekking tot die Status van Vlugtelinge van 1967 onderteken ná sy toetreding in 1996. Hierdie internasionale instrumente gee uitvoering aan artikel 14 van die Universele Verklaring van Menseregte van 1948 deur die internasionale wetlike raamwerk te skep vir die beskerming van vlugtelinge deur, onder andere, die reg van persone te erken om om asiel aansoek te doen teen vervolging in ander lande, die term “vlugteling” te definieer, die regte van vlugtelinge te bepaal en deur die wetlike verpligtinge van die lande wat as partye toegetree het, uiteen te sit. Die Konvensie maak ook voorsiening vir die instelling van minimum standaarde vir die behandeling van vlugtelinge. Die Konvensie is egter nie van toepassing op individue teen wie daar ernstige besware is nie – indien hulle oorlogsmisdade, misdade teen die mensdom, ernstige nie-politieke oortredings begaan het, of skuldig is aan dade wat strydig is met die doelwitte en beginsels van die Verenigde Nasies. Daar is geen rede of regverdiging om vlugtelingstatus te verleen aan laasgenoemde individue nie.

Wat ons Grondwet betref, is Suid-Afrika deur sy internasionale verpligtinge verbind – insluitend verpligtinge in terme van die Konvensie met Betrekking tot die Status van Vlugtelinge van 1951 en die daaropvolgende protokol. Die regering het dus ‘n plig om vlugtelinge te ontvang, te beskerm en te behandel op ‘n menslike wyse soos vereis deur die Konvensie vereis word. Daarbenewens beskerm ons Grondwet en die Handves van Menseregte die regte van almal in Suid-Afrika – insluitend vlugtelinge – wat beteken dat almal gelyk is voor die reg en die reg op gelyke beskerming en voordeel van die wet het. Dit beteken natuurlik ook dat almal in Suid-Afrika die wet moet nakom sodra hul in Suid-Afrika is.

Dit is die grondwetlike plig van die regering om die regte van vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika te respekteer, maar dit is inderdaad ook die plig van elke Suid-Afrikaner en elke ander individu wat in Suid-Afrika teenwoordig is om die waardes te bevorder – insluitende verdraagsaamheid en respek – wat onderliggend is aan ‘n oop en demokratiese samelewing wat gebaseer is op menswaardigheid, gelykheid en vryheid. Om die regte wat in ons Grondwet vasgelê is, op te eis, moet ons ook die regte van ander respekteer, of jy nou ‘n gebore Suid-Afrikaner is, of ‘n buitelander wat ons beskerming benodig teen onreg en onmenslikheid.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika