High poverty and inequality levels fuelling xenophobic attacks in South Africa


Zodidi Mhlana 

JOHANNESBURG- The country’s widening inequality levels and poor service delivery in impoverished communities have been identified as some of the leading underlying causes of xenophobic outbreaks in South Africa.
Annah Moyo from the Centre for the Study of violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) said that there was a stronger correlation between service delivery protests and attacks on foreign nationals.
“High levels of inequality that still persist in South Africa and poor service delivery in less affluent communities, where basic socio economic services are still a challenge are behind some of the attacks. The struggle for survival and competition over resources are some of the causes. We have what we call frustration scapegoats because of the frustration with service delivery, non nationals in these communities become scapegoats. Some South Africans in these communities say, we are still living in poverty and yet we are receiving people that are burdening the very scarce resources we have. Frustrations of citizens are then diverted to non nationals,” she said.
Moyo was speaking during second day of the South African Human Rights national investigative hearing on migration, xenophobia and social cohesion in Johannesburg on Thursday.
She said that hospitality and construction sectors that were employing mainly foreign nationals and exploiting them were also fuelling the attacks.
Moyo spoke about some remarks made by community leaders and politicians which she said triggered xenophobic attacks.
“When these statements are being made by leaders, people who listen to them take advantage of the statements. Leaders have the power and authority within a community. We have seen this through statements by Herman Mashaba,” Moyo added.
Joburg mayor, Herman Mashaba came under fire over a year ago after claiming that illegal foreigners were behind the crimes committed within the City.
Advocate Popo Mfubu from the Refugee Rights Unit based at the University of Cape Town said a study had revealed that South Africa was “overwhelmingly” rejecting applications by asylum seekers even though they required protection.
“Why are rejecting so many people, when there’s a clear need of refugee protection. There’s an ongoing war in Somalia, a new conflict has risen in Burundi and there are mass murders and rapes in the Eastern side of the DR Congo,” Mfubu said.
Mfubu further said that some asylum seekers were forced to remain in a state of limbo due to problems within South Africa’s migration system.
“There are people who have been waiting to find out whether they will be granted a refugee status or not since 1999. That’s like writing an exam and waiting for 15 years to find out if you have passed,” he said.
Advocate Mfubu also said rampant corruption existing within the sector was making it impossible for foreigners in need of protection to legalise their stay in South Africa.
Another speaker, Prof. Loren Landau, South African Chair in Mobility and the Politics of Difference said attacks directed at foreign nationals had been “continuing unabated” since the early 1990s.
At least 300 people have lost their lives during these attacks, with more than 100 000 becoming displaced.