Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa
Anti-immigrant violence in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September killed at least 12 people and displaced hundreds after the government burned, looted, and destroyed thousands of dollars worth of their private property. An estimated 700 people have been arrested after the government dispatched police in riot gear.
Xenophobic attacks against African immigrants are no novelty in South Africa. In 2008 and 2015, mass attacks killed numerous people and forced hundreds from their homes.
The population of South Africa, at an estimated 50 million people, consists of 3.6 million migrants, most of whom came from the neighboring countries of Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique. For many years, South Africans have been scapegoating foreign residents for social and economic problems in the country.
Recent protests have had strong anti-Nigerian rhetoric, with looters specifically targeting Nigerians for alleged crimes. Nigerians, who account for about two percent of the foreign-born population, had also been targeted in the 2017 anti-immigrant violence.
The September attacks led to diplomatic confrontations between South Africa and Nigeria, the two most powerful African economies. Nigeria boycotted the World Economic Forum summit in Cape Town, South Africa, where initiatives to increase intra-African trade were on the agenda. Amidst the violent outbreaks, the Nigerian government has also arranged flights for people who want to flee the country. Meanwhile, South Africa temporarily shut down its diplomatic missions in Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria.
The rate of unemployment in South Africa is currently at twenty-nine percent and has been high for many years now. Frustrations towards the job market and high levels of inequality fuel anger against African immigrants and widespread distrust in the central government and its formal institutions. The South African government uses hostility towards immigrants as a political tool. There is a strong disconnect between politicians and citizens, creating a power vacuum that allows local leaders or organizations to emerge. Local actors exploit existing tensions to increase their power and control over their regions.