You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

South Africa: Politicans Scapegoating Immigrants

AfricaFocus Bulletin logo AfricaFocus Bulletin 2019-04-09 AfricaFocus Bulletin
a group of people holding a sign © Provided by AfricaFocus Bulletin a group of people that are standing in the grass © Provided by AfricaFocus Bulletin Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Format for print or mobile Widgets

South Africa: Politicans Scapegoating Immigrants

AfricaFocus Bulletin

April 9, 2019 (190409)

(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

In what became a debate amongst a small group of residents [inAlexandra], another resident Kabelo Tsotetsi, defended immigrants,saying they were starting their own businesses and not taking jobsfrom South Africans. Tsotetsi said: “Our government doesn’t makeit easy for foreigners to live here, they don’t get help. Theycome from countries where they are severely oppressed and theycome here and face the same struggles as us. We are all Africansfighting for our dignity.” - GroundUp, April 3, 2019

Such debates could undoubtedly be paralleled in many othercountries, in Africa and around the world. But whether thetensions escalate to harassment or even violence depends in largepart on the actions of politicians and other community leaders.Such political mobilization in South Africa, Jean Pierre Misagofound in an empirical survey of incidents from 1994 to 2018,consistently provided the trigger for violence. And comments bypoliticians are again stirring up resentment in the lead up tonational elections in May.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several articles on recentincidents in South Africa, including one drawing on parallel casesin West Africa from decades earlier.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today, and available on theweb at, highlightsrecent data on the large proportion of African migrants who chooseto move to other countries in the continent rather than moredistant destinations.

Also of interest:

BBC News, "How Common are Xenophobic Attacks," April 7, 2019

Shola Lawal, “GHANA MUST GO: The ugly history of Africa’s mostfamous bag,” Mail & Guardian, April 5, 2019

Bheki C. Simelane, “Xenophobia, crime and poverty trigger anger inAlexandra,” Daily Maverick, 3 April 2019

Paddy Harper, “Resolute in the face of xenophobia,” Mail &Guardian, 5 Apr 2019

Jean Pierre Misago, “Political Mobilisation as the Trigger ofXenophobic Violence in Post-Apartheid South Africa,”International Journal of Conflict and Violence, 2019

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration, visit

On South Africa in particular, see,,,, and

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa ahead of elections

South Africa’s election season rhetoric has sparked freshxenophobic attacks on African migrants

By Lynsey Chutel

April 2, 2019

Quartz Africa - Direct URL:

Xenophobic violence has erupted in South Africa again, in a cyclethat is now being fueled by politicians ramping up anti-immigrantrhetoric in a country where foreigners are easy targets.

Last week, Malawians living among South Africans in a squattercamp on the outskirts of Durban were attacked by their neighbors.More than 100 crowded into a police station for protection andwere eventually housed in a tent in an open field. Unconfirmedreports said two people were killed.

The latest attacks were vigilantes who were said to have found aMalawian man with stolen goods. Over several days, Malawians inthe settlement were targeted as retribution. Calm was restored byApr. 1, after South Africans officials intervened, the localIslamic Society and other NGOs negotiated and the Malawiancommunity of Durban had to write a letter apologizing on behalf ofone man, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. Noarrests were made.

Elias Twaibu barely survived the 2015 attacks in Durban in whichseveral people were killed. The 30-year-old went back home toMalawi, but that country’s economic straits drove him back toSouth Africa, where was again attacked last week.

“Coming back to a country that stripped me of my dignity became myonly option,” he told the Sunday Tribune, Durban’s local weekly.“I was so desperate and impoverished that I came back here. It’s adecision I truly regret making.”

The attacks aren’t usually targeted against one nationality, withSomalis, Congolese, Mozambicans, Nigerians and Zimbabweans allbearing the brunt throughout the last decade of anti-immigrantviolence.

The 2015 attacks were fueled by comments made by Zulu KingGoodwill Zwelithini as he flexed his political muscles. This time,the thread may not seem as direct, but the attacks come afterweeks of anti-immigrant rhetoric by South African politicians. OnMonday (Apr. 1), president Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the attacks,reminding South Africans that they owe their African neighbors adebt of gratitude for their support during the struggle againstapartheid. Yet, just days earlier, Ramaphosa himself scapegoatedforeigners while on the campaign trail.

“Everybody just arrives in our townships and rural areas and setup businesses without licenses and permits. We are going to bringthis to an end,” he said at a rally.

Despite recurrent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, theopposition from civil society has also been strong. Credit:Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University(

As the ANC government struggles to provide basic services, theyhave blamed foreigners for burdening the public service. InNovember last year, health minister Aaron Motsoaledi said thehealth service was collapsing in part due to “the weight thatforeign nationals are bringing to the country.” He defended hiscomments, saying it had “nothing to do with xenophobia, it’s areality.”

That’s the same line taken up by the official opposition, theDemocratic Alliance. “Securing our borders,” has become a key partof their election manifesto, blaming the ANC for “failing”immigration policies. They’ve linked immigration to their maincampaigning points, job creation and crime.

“Johannesburg attracts more than 3,000 people every month and notall of those people are registered,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane,calling for more secure borders and taxes on foreign-ownedbusinesses. It’s worth noting that Maimane and the DA’s policyzero in on inner-city Johannesburg and Pretoria, home to manyAfrican immigrants, and not Cape Town, a DA stronghold and afavorite of expats, code for white immigrants.

“The biggest challenge is that people don’t have work here,” headded. “The other issue that is becoming problematic is that ourcitizens don’t feel safe.”

It’s an immigration strategy Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba hasemployed more blatantly and much longer, blaming foreigners forurban decay. When finally providing low-income housing, Mashabaensured that they were only to be occupied by South Africans,potentially splitting up mixed families. Smaller parties who wantto be noticed have adopted the same prejudice as policy.

In 2008, more than 60 people were killed in attacks on foreigners,and since then this violence has never quite disappeared. Fuelledby economic insecurity, these attacks are mostly perpetrated byblack South Africans target African migrants, the vulnerableattacking the most vulnerable. That this hatred is now beingpicked up by politicians is cynical, and terrifying.

Immigrants robbed and forced to sleep outside in Durban

Victims of latest xenophobic violence blame electioneering bypoliticians

GroundUp, 28 March 2019 By Musa Binda – Direct URL:

About 100 immigrants, mostly from Malawi, are currently having tosleep in an open space near Sydenham police station in Durban.Xenophobic attackers have driven them away from the homes theywere renting.

Dozens of people, mostly from Malawi, are sleeping outside inSydenham, Durban. Credit: Musa Binda

The displaced foreign nationals blame government officials for theongoing attacks. They told GroundUp that politicians on thecampaign trail have been using fear of immigrants to drum upsupport, for example by promising to tighten borders after theupcoming election to control the number of immigrants entering thecountry.

“This sends South Africans a message that we are not welcome. Andthe only way they can communicate that is by attacking us,” said aman who asked not to be named.

He said the recent attacks started in Kenville when a group ofabout 100 people stormed several tuckshops owned by Somalians andstarted looting on Sunday night. He said that a woman who wastrying to run away from the attackers by walking on a buildingroof fell off and died.

“In an attempt to retaliate, the Somalians shot at the crowd andone person was killed while two others were rushed to hospital formedical attention. It got ugly as several shops were looted andburnt. The attacks then moved to Burnwood,” said the man.

To verify the man’s story, we spoke to the police. SAPS spokesman,Lieutenant Colonel Thulani Zwane said a case of murder and and aninquest docket were being investigated by Sydenham and GreenwoodPark police stations. He said several other cases of publicviolence, arson, damage to property and looting were opened “aschaos led to the looting of foreign-owned tuck shops, torching oftheir cars and houses”. He said police were monitoring thesituation.

Miriam Mussa, a Malawian immigrant, is currently sleeping in theopen with her toddler daughter. “It was about 1am on Monday whenwe were forced out of our rented rooms. I was with my baby and myhusband. Even though they did not hurt us after seeing that we hada small baby, they allowed us to leave with only the clothes wewere wearing. We watched them as they took out all our furniture,”she said.

She said that her family has been sleeping for two days in theopen, and her daughter has become sick. “I think it’s because sheis too weak to withstand the kind of cold we are exposed to. Itcould also be caused by the fact that we are starving here,” saidMussa, who came to South Africa three years ago to look for a job.She found one as a domestic worker in the area.

Another Malawian, John Valleta, said the attackers told them thatthey were angry because foreign nationals were taking their jobs.“They said we were a bad influence on the employers because weaccept cheap labour yet we accept long hours and loads of work.They said for this reason employers preferred employing foreignersand that angers South Africans because it left them with no jobs.They wanted us to go back to our countries and they were going tomake that happen the hard way.”

He claimed that during the attacks scores of immigrant men wereinjured because the attackers beat them. He said despite sleepingin the open they still felt less safe because they don’t know whatthe attackers are planning next.

Ethekwini Municipality Deputy Mayor Fawzia Pier visited thedisplaced people and promised that better shelter was beingarranged. Pier said that a meeting with residents was beingplanned.

Alexandra shut down as residents take to the streets

by Zoë Postman

GroundUp, 3 April 2019

Thousands of residents of Alexandra in Johannesburg shut down thetownship on Wednesday morning, demanding that Mayor Herman Mashabaaddress them on solutions to problems with overcrowding, water andelectricity.

Residents started blockading streets in Alexandra with burningtyres and garbage at about 5am. Protesters marched down Londonroad, moving towards the N3 highway, and ended up near theMarlboro Gautrain station where they expected to be addressed byMashaba.

Mashaba sent Yao-Heng Michael Sun, Mayco Member for Public Safety,to address the crowd but they would not allow him to speak. Theyinsisted on being addressed by Mashaba.

According to the 2011 census, about 180,000 people live inAlexandra. The township is close to Sandton, one of the mostaffluent suburbs in Johannesburg.

Protesters said Alexandra was being neglected and they would notvote in the upcoming elections if the City of Johannesburg did notaddress the issues they faced.

Resident Thabisile Ndaba, who was born in Alexandra and has livedthere all her life, said the constant building of new shacks hadresulted in overpopulation.

“When you open your window, there’s a new shack. When you openyour door, there’s a new shack…We are not against any foreignersor fighting with anyone. We just want the City to stop thebuilding of new shacks because this situation is out of hand. Somepeople are even building shacks on the pavements where people haveto walk.” she said.

As a result of the overpopulation, Ndaba said, basic services suchas water and electricity were stretched thin and the residents ofAlexandra were suffering the consequences. She said the Cityshould build more flats and houses so that people would stoperecting new shacks.

But another resident, Judy Makwana, said she wanted foreignnationals to leave the country because they were “taking jobs”from South Africans.

“We want our children to get work, that’s why I’m here. I’mfighting for my kids,” said Makwana.

She accused the City of treating immigrants better than SouthAfricans and said she would not vote in the forthcoming elections.

She said immigrants “live in nice houses while our grannies livein one room shacks with five other people”.

In what became a debate amongst a small group of residents,another resident Kabelo Tsotetsi, defended immigrants, saying theywere starting their own businesses and not taking jobs from SouthAfricans.

Tsotetsi said: “Our government doesn’t make it easy for foreignersto live here, they don’t get help. They come from countries wherethey are severely oppressed and they come here and face the samestruggles as us. We are all Africans fighting for our dignity.”

He said people should be looking to government for answers on whyit had failed its people instead of finding reasons to blame eachother.

How not to handle migration in South Africa:Lessons from West Africa

by Mukoni Ratshitanga, 02/04/2019

Mukoni Ratshitanga is head of content at POWER 98.7.

With the ANC and DA entering the sensitive migration issue via anelection campaign, there is a very real danger that the situationmight one day spiral out beyond their control, writes MukoniRatshitanga.

Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has proffered adviceto African political parties and citizens on the thorny issue ofmigration across the continent.

In an exclusive interview on POWER 98.7, Obasanjo said: "Migrationis something that must be handled with dexterity, withresponsibility and with sensitivity on the continent of Africa."

He appealed to political parties who are apprehensive of migrantsto "think again". The elderly African statesman, who was in SouthAfrica last week to attend the Southern African DevelopmentCommunity (SADC) Solidarity Conference on Western Sahara, said:"What you think you will gain in terms of jobs for your people bykeeping other people from other countries away will amount tonothing."

Nigeria-Ghana experience

Referring to the January 1983 Executive Ordinance by the thenNigerian president, the recently deceased Shehu Shagari, whichexpelled over two million – most of them Ghanaian citizens – fromNigeria, Obasanjo said: "We tried it in Nigeria; it didn't work."…

The Shagari Ordinance came against the backdrop of a cocktail ofsocio-economic fortunes and misfortunes rooted in the complex WestAfrican and African history. The years 1973 – 1981 witnessed arise in the oil price – Nigeria's main source of revenue – whichenabled the state to make significant investments in public worksand light industries. This pull-factor brought greater numbers ofmigrants from neighbouring countries into Nigeria, a processfurther propelled by the 1973 and 1974 drought in the Sahelregion.

Things would predictably take a different turn by the early 1980s.The oil price fell sharply in 1981, the Nigerian economy declined,along with industrial investment, while urban unemployment –affecting two thirds of urban workers – rose. Worse still,widespread corruption during the period of the Shagari governmentonly served to aggravate the situation.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) Structural AdjustmentProgramme which imposed unpopular cuts in social expenditurefollowed in 1983, an election year in Nigeria. The confluence ofnegative socio-economic circumstances impacted on the politicalsphere, drawing into the potent mix, migrants who, until then, hadnot featured prominently in the Nigerian public discourse.

On January 17, 1983, the Nigerian government ordered all unskilledand undocumented migrants to leave the country within 14 days.They were accused of taking away jobs from citizens, engaging incrime and other forms of deviant social conduct, while allegationsof conspiracy to register migrants as voters in the generalelection of August that year were levelled against the opposition.

Shagari would win the elections by a comfortable margin of fourmillion votes more than the second most popular contestant,Obafemi Awolowo.

What goes around comes around: the 1969 Ghanaian expulsion ofNigerians

Fourteen years earlier in 1969, the Ghana government had expelled150 000 Nigerians who had lived in Ghana for decades, eking out alivelihood as traders, workers, farmers and other professions.

At the time, the Ghanaian economy was cocoa-dependent, and thecommodity provided for over 70% of foreign exchange earnings. The20 years from 1950 – 1970 witnessed a continuous decline in theworld cocoa price which had dropped by 75% by 1969.

A pattern emerges here: the greater the economic hardship, thelouder the anti-immigrant decibels become. Nigerian academicsJohnson Aremu and Adeyinka Ajayi would later note, in a paperpublished in 2014 that, "With Ghana's continued economicmisfortunes, the Government and popular press really had nodifficulty turning to aliens as scapegoats for their malaise."The expulsion order may also be seen as an attempt by [PrimeMinister] Kofi Busia to win the confidence of the masses andrestore the legitimacy of his government. Since government waslosing its grip on the economic survival of the country, Busia andhis cabinet members were left with little or no choice than toseek solace in sending away non-nationals as a way of appeasingthe anger of the masses."

Enemies of Africa

Last week, President Obasanjo had strong words for those who holdand propagate anti-immigrant positions. "Anybody who is a party toit," he said, "I would say he's an enemy of Africa. And if anypolitical party is doing that, I would say, they should thinkagain." He stressed that he, as a matter of principle, would neverbe party to "stopping any African from moving freely withinAfrica. I will never be a party to it."

He said that law enforcement agencies of immigrant recipientcountries should address measures against criminal conduct amongimmigrants rather than tarnish everyone with the same brush. "Ifthey are criminals, of course you shouldn't allow criminals."

He implored political parties to understand that migration is anage-old phenomenon which pre-dates the formation of the nationstate. "Migration is what has kept the world going. And I believethat nothing should stop [it]" adding that "migrants have a lot tooffer" to host countries.

Migrants, the 2019 general election and Pan Africanism

For the very first time since 1994, this year the immigrantquestion is serving as an election issue.

It entered the electoral terrain in dramatic fashion when, inNovember last year, City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba,generated a little storm in a tea cup; 'arresting' a man forcarrying a cow head destined for dismembering and eventual sale inthe informal market. Endorsing his boss' 'arrest,' David Tembe,the chief of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department(JMPD) claimed that the man was an undocumented migrant. Mashababoldly claimed that his intervention was a preventative measureagainst the Ebola disease, suggesting that Africans from beyondour borders are nothing but mobile carriers of disease!

But the entire spectacle was suspect. It bore the hallmarks of thelaunch of a choreographed anti-African immigrant electoralplatform by Mashaba's party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). Forwhile Mashaba was shopping for publicity and applause by targetinga lone informal trader in the streets of Johannesburg and makingemotive and offensive statements about other Africans, DA Memberof Parliament Jacques Julius was simultaneously engaged in his ownlengthy Twitter campaign along the South African and Mozambicanborder, demanding that the government "Secure[s] Our Borders".

A coincidence? I have my doubts.

There followed by a plethora of potentially inflammatory publicstatements by politicians from across the political divide aboutthe burden placed on the country's fiscus by immigrants, thesupposed unfair competition they brought to local small businessowners and other remarks that provoke bigoted discourse in thepublic space.

In fact, to be fair to the DA, the most virulent charge againstmigrants was led by Safety and Security Deputy Minister BonganiMkongi at a press conference in July 14, 2017. To illustrate thegravity of his stance, it is best to quote him in full: "Thequestion arises and we must investigate also what the law of SouthAfrica is saying, how can a city in South Africa be 80% foreignnationals. That is dangerous. That in Hillbrow and the surroundingareas, South Africans have surrendered their own city. The nationshould discuss that particular question.

"We are surrendering our land and it is not xenophobia to talk[the] truth. We fought for this land from a white minority. Wecannot surrender it to the foreign nationals. That is a matter ofprinciple. We fought for this country, not only for us, for thegenerations of South Africans.

"I want to ask the nation South Africa and the so-called humanrights activists and organisations what must the police do whenthey are shot at by criminals? Must they sing 'Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrika or must they return fire? We are losing police officersday in and day out but we are protecting criminals who areterrorising our people. We are 52 million people. If each andevery of us can be a police officer and fight against crime wewill squeeze crime in South Africa."

Framing the discussion this way is most unhelpful for obviousreasons, the most glaring being the use of statistics which no oneknows the source from whence they are drawn. Most importantly, weclose room for appreciating the benefit that South Africa receivesfrom immigrant labour, skilled and unskilled, professionals likedoctors employed in the South African public health system and theprivate sector, academics and others as well as the cross-culturalpollination every society requires for its own evolution anddevelopment.

With these two major parties entering the sensitive migrationissue via an election campaign, and so many high-rankingpoliticians speaking emotively in a manner that scapegoatsmigrants for our abiding structural socio-economic challenges,there is a very real danger that the situation might one dayspiral out beyond their control, with catastrophic consequencesfor the human beings involved and for our country's relations withthe rest of the African continent and the world.

The irony of history is that it is the DA, a liberal party withvery little commitment to the continent of Africa, which, in thecontext of a difficult election for the ANC, baited the ANC, a PanAfrican formation, to enter the immigrant question with haste,resorting to potentially dangerous populism. The unavoidablequestion the ANC needs to ponder over is whether it has lost itsPan African vision and what the implications are for SouthAfrica's relations with the rest of the continent.

It is vitally important not to lose sight of the social andeconomic justice imperatives at play here. The inequitabledistribution of resources within and between countries is one ofthe drivers of migration within and beyond the continent. It alsofoments the resentments that lead to hostility towards migrants.It is not enough or acceptable to replace such a consideredapproach with simplistic and populist high-pitched shrillsbemoaning the presence of migrants.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publicationproviding reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, witha particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocusBulletin is edited by William Minter.

AfricaFocus Bulletin can be reached at Pleasewrite to this address to suggest material for inclusion. For moreinformation about reposted material, please contact directly theoriginal source mentioned. For a full archive and other resources,see

More From AfricaFocus Bulletin

AfricaFocus Bulletin
AfricaFocus Bulletin
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon