The xenophobic attack on Nigerians and other foreigners in South Africa is the major topic of discourse on the lips of everyone due to the recent spate of violent and deadly attacks.
This episode of violence has prompted a flurry of high-level condemnations and criticisms from international bodies and government officials across various countries.
The violence echoes sporadic outbreaks of attacks mainly targeting migrants from other African countries in some of South Africa’s poorest areas.
It should be recalled that in 2008 and 2015, the world was horrified by the savage scenes of xenophobic violence towards African immigrants in South Africa despite the unprecedented support provided by African countries during South Africa’s struggle to end ‘apartheid’.
Prior to 1994, immigrants from different countries faced discrimination and even violence in South Africa.
After majority rule in 1994, contrary to expectations, the incidence of xenophobia increased. Between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died as a result of the incessant xenophobic attacks.
What is ‘xenophobic violence’
Xenophobic violence refers to any act/acts of violence, perpetrated by local communities or groups against an individual or group of individuals, based on the perception that the victim/victims of this violence do not belong to the perpetrators’ community, society or nationality.
The attacks towards foreign nationals or perceived outsiders are often expressed in the forms of murder, assaults, intimidation and harassment.
Such attacks can include arson attacks on non-nationals and/or their property or the looting and robbery of non-nationals’ shops.
These xenophobic attacks occur across all nine provinces of South Africa, while the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape are mostly affected.
Reason for ‘xenophobic violence’
One of the many reasons advanced by some South Africans for their anger towards black Africans since the xenophobic violence of 2008 and 2015 is that ‘foreigners are taking jobs from indigenes in the country’.
A Pew Research poll conducted in 2018 showed that 62% of South Africans viewed immigrants as a burden on society by taking jobs and social benefits and that 61% of South Africans thought that immigrants were more responsible for crime than other groups.
South Africa’s Legal Obligation to Protect Foreign Nationals
South Africa has ratified numerous international instruments that place an onus on the country to ensure that it provides protection against all forms of discrimination, including xenophobia and xenophobic violence.
In accordance with this legislation, refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa are legally entitled to the same rights as South African citizens, except for the right to vote.
However, with the ongoing situation, the South African Government must send out a ‘strong message’ to its citizens that ‘hostility towards non-nationals should not acceptable under any circumstances’.