South Africa Addresses Recent Surge in Xenophobic Attacks
Last week, three people died in attacks that targeted foreign-owned homes and shops in Durban, South Africa. A group of vigilantes initially claimed to have caught a Malawian man stealing goods. Over the next several days, Malawians in the Durban settlement were targeted as retribution.
“They started shouting and telling us to leave, they kept chanting that we must leave their country, they hit and kicked my husband,” said Loveness James, who claims that she and her husband were chased from their home in the early hours of the morning.
“All I could think of was my unborn baby, my water breaking and me giving birth in front of people who wanted us dead.”
Over 100 Malawians — who have been displaced as a result of the attack at the Durban informal settlement — have since asked to be repatriated.
The attacks are not usually targeted exclusively at Malawians. Foreigners from Somalia, Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe are frequently at the receiving end of these attacks as well.
Elias Twaibu, a Malawian, said he went to live in South Africa “because of the economic situation at home. [He] wanted a better life, so [he] travelled back to Durban, but after being attacked and treated like a criminal, [he] thought it would be best if [he] went home.”
Xenophobic violence is not a new phenomenon in South Africa. In 2008, the country experienced the height of its violence against foreigners when more than 60 people died as the result of attacks. In 2015, seven immigrants were killed after being hunted and attacked by gangs in the cities of Johannesburg and Durban.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken out about these recent attacks, emphasizing that such levels of xenophobia should no longer have a place in South Africa.
“These recent attacks that have been leveled against people from other countries are wrong,” he said. “They violate everything that our people fought for over many decades. I condemn them in the strongest terms.”
Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandla Mandela, ANC MP and member of the Pan-African Parliament, called for increased unity among South Africans in the wake of these attacks in order to combat xenophobia.
“The acts of violence and criminality against Malawian nationals in Durban over the past week are reprehensible and deeply shameful,” he said.
“As a nation, we must do whatever we can to ensure that the ghosts of unresolved xenophobic violence in our recent past - arguably among the darkest days the democratic nation has had to endure — do not rise again.”
In late March, South Africa launched a National Action Plan to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance. The plan, which is set to unfold over the next five years, “aims to raise public awareness about anti-racism and equality measures, improve access to justice and better protection for victims, and increase anti-discrimination efforts to help achieve greater justice and equality.”
However, as HRW recently pointed out, the National Action Plan does not include any mention of punishing those responsible for carrying out xenophobic crimes, which have displaced thousands of foreign nationals and led to dozens of deaths over the last 10 years.