Xenophobia: Let’s deal with scourge decisively

SOUTH Africa will hold its general elections on May 8, the sixth since the end of apartheid in 1994. These are historical elections since the Rainbow Nation will this year be celebrating 25 years of democracy.

The 2019 vote comes against the backdrop of centenary celebrations in honour of founding president Nelson Mandela and struggle stalwart Albertina Sisulu in 2018.

As members of the Southern African Development Community and African Union, we are confident of free, fair, credible and violence-free elections, but we do so with a heavy heart.

Xenophobic and/or Afrophobic attacks should no longer be issues stalking Africa’s second largest economy, and the most developed country on the continent, but sadly, they remain topical issues, not for academics, but for ordinary citizens.

This is worrying and as Zambia’s High Commissioner in South Africa Mr Emmanuel Mwamba, said early this week after the African envoys met Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu: “We are beginning to worry that this is becoming cyclical.”

Zimbabweans, Somalis, Congolese, Ethiopians, Mozambicans, Zambians, Nigerians, Malawians and other African nationals have borne the brunt of these barbaric attacks, with some losing life and limb.

Since 2008, Africa has tried to locate the bigger picture regarding xenophobic attacks. Is South Africa saying it doesn’t welcome African immigrants, meanwhile, it welcomes migrant workers from Europe, Asia and the Americas?

The recent anti-immigrant violence in KwaZulu-Natal province was a reminder of how some South Africans are becoming so hostile to their brothers and sisters from other parts of the continent whom they blame for stealing their jobs and for urban decay.

Since it is election season, people have blamed politicians and their campaign rhetoric for inciting an electorate that has many expectations. Thus violence against African nationals cannot be described as mere criminality.

While opposition Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane in his campaign calls for more secure borders, under the mantra: “Securing our borders,” critics maintain that President Cyril Ramaphosa recently made foreigners scapegoats when he said at a rally: “Everybody just arrives in our townships and rural areas and set up businesses without licences and permits. We are going to bring this to an end.”

Another report says health minister Aaron Motsoaledi last November said the health service system was collapsing partly because of “the weight that foreign nationals are bringing to the country.”

The minister said his remarks had nothing to do with xenophobia. The international community is also worried.

The recent spate of violence led the UNHCR to issue a statement calling for “calling for urgent action by the government and civil society to prevent reoccurring violence against foreign nationals, including refugees who come to South Africa for protection from persecution and violence. Regardless of nationality or immigration status, the human rights of all persons residing in South Africa must be respected” said Leonard Zulu, UNHCR Deputy Regional Representative for Southern Africa.

“We also call for the government to ensure that those responsible for acts of violence are brought to account”. Although the South African government issued a statement on peaceful co-existence and nation building, African citizens question whether this will see an end to xenophobic attacks in South Africa? Have they examined the causes of xenophobic attacks, and why African nationals are the targets?

What is the position of the regional and continental blocs SADC and African Union on xenophobic attacks as they work towards achieving Agenda 2063?

But all the blame cannot be put on South Africa. It has been host to migrant communities in the mines for many decades. AU member states are richly resourced. It is time they develop their economies to levels that will also attract South African nationals to work in their countries. If we are now a global village, it cannot be a global village where Africa discriminates against its own.

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