The atmosphere remains volatile in South Africa following attacks on foreign nationals that left two people dead as well as threats of more attacks circulating on social media since last week.

Whether the reason for the violence that erupted in South Africa last week is defined as xenophobic or criminality, foreign nationals are living in fear following the attacks that took place mainly in the KwaZulu Natal province.

The government, through the minister of international relations Lindiwe Sisulu, preferred to refer to the attacks as criminality rather than xenophobia though some analysts have maintained that there is a thin line between the two.

Locals in Sydenham displaced more than 150 Malawian nationals in Durban from an informal settlement following attacks.

The displaced foreigners had to seek refuge at police stations and in churches.

According to reports, the affected families lost all their belongings along with other foreign nationals whose small businesses were looted.

Following the attacks, messages of threats of more attacks on foreign nationals have been circulating, living most foreigners in fear.

Addressing journalists after a meeting with African diplomats in the capital, Pretoria, on Monday, Sisulu emphasised that the attacks were not xenophobic but acts of criminality.

“All of us must stand up and send a strong message that violence, all criminal activities, and the looting of properties of foreign nationals will not be tolerated. The police and other law enforcement agencies must act without fear or favour,” said Sisulu.

The minister added that the African continent had contributed and sacrificed a lot for South Africans to be free and liberated from apartheid, hence, the need for the country to exercise tolerance and acceptance to fellow Africans.

“South African companies and our citizens are welcomed and loved across the continent. Here at home, we should do the same. We must embrace our neighbours as fellow Africans,” she added.

Many of the people who were targeted during the turbulences were Malawian citizens, who have since stated that they want to go back to their county. But South Africa’s deputy international relations minister Luwellyn Landers, said Malawians are welcome to stay in South Africa and need not go back home.

Diplomats, who attended the meeting with Sisulu, said engagements with the South African government were encouraging but raised concerns over utterances that promote hatred and divisions by some politicians.

“We remain concerned by the statements of some politicians, which are not helpful and say uncomplimentary things about foreign nationals,” said Kabiru Bala Nigerian High Commissioner.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ambassador to South Africa, Bene M’poko, said it is not enough to define the problem as xenophobia or criminality but that the matter needs to be addressed.

The meeting was also attended by the minister of police, Beki Cele, who vowed to work with communities to ensure the safety of foreigners.

President Cyril Ramaphosa also denounced the attacks on foreigners and urged police to bring those responsible to book.

“As South Africans, we owe our freedom to the solidarity and support given to our liberation struggle by people across our continent and around the world. Today, our economy and society benefits from our extensive trade and investment relations with partners on our continent and many of our continental compatriots live in South Africa where they are making important contributions to the development of our country.

“African development depends on the increased movement of people, goods and services between different countries for all of us to benefit. We will not allow criminals to set back these processes,” said the President.

Over the weekend, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema also condemned the violence and urged unity among Africans.

“Whether you are from South Africa, whether you are from Zimbabwe, whether you are from Nigeria – this is your home,” Malema said.

He also dismissed claims that foreigners were taking South Africans’ jobs, questioning why is that only Africans are being targeted while whites and Chinese also occupy jobs, sometimes without qualifications, but they are never attacked or blamed.

South Africa’s history of Xenophobia or Afrophobia:

1994 to 1995

In December 1994 and January 1995, armed youth gangs in Alexandra Township outside of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, destroyed the homes and property of suspected undocumented migrants and marched the individuals down to the local police station where they demanded that the foreigners be forcibly and immediately removed.

1998

In September 1998, two Senegalese and a Mozambican were thrown from a moving train in Johannesburg by a group of individuals returning from a rally organised by a group blaming foreigners for the levels of unemployment, crime, and even the spread of AIDS.

2000

In August 2000, seven xenophobia-related killings were reported at the Cape Flats district of Cape Town. Seven foreigners from different African countries were killed. Among those who were attacked by South Africans were two Nigerians, one Kenyan, and two Angolans.

2008

On 8 January 2008, two Somali shop owners were murdered in the Eastern Cape towns of Jeffreys Bay and East London. In March 2008, seven people were killed including Zimbabweans, Pakistanis and a Somali after their shops and shacks were set alight in Atteridgeville near Pretoria.

On 11 May 2008, an outburst of violence in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra triggered more xenophobic violence in other townships. Firstly, it only spread in the Gauteng Province. After two weeks, the violence was felt in other major cities across the country, especially in Durban and Cape Town.

2009

From 14 to 17 November 2009, 3,000 Zimbabwean nationals living in the rural community of De Doorns, an informal settlement near Breede Valley Municipality, in the Western Cape were displaced as a result of xenophobic violence. This time, Zimbabweans were selectively targeted despite the presence of other foreign nationals living and working in the same area.

2013

On 27 February 2013, eight South African police officers tied a 27-year-old Mozambican man, Mido Macia, to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road. The incident resulted in Macia’s death. The incident happened in Daveyton, East of Johannesburg, South Africa.

On 26 May 2013, two Zimbabwean men were killed by a South African mob in xenophobic violence in Diepsloot, South Africa.

2015

In January 2015, Somali shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, Siphiwe Mahori, during an alleged robbery in Soweto Township. The boy was shot in the neck and died within 15 minutes. Lebogang Ncamla, 23, was another victim when he was shot three times in the arm. The incident triggered waves of attacks and looting of foreign owned shops.

On 5 March 2015, xenophobic attacks occurred in Limpopo Province. Foreigners on the outskirts of Polokwane left their shops after protesting villagers threatened to burn them alive and then looted them. Violence erupted in the Ga-Sekgopo area after a foreign shop owner was found in possession of a mobile phone belonging to a local man who was killed.

On 8 April 2015, a spate of xenophobic violence occurred after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made comments that foreigners should go back to their home countries because they are changing the nature of South African society with their goods and enjoying wealth that should have been for local people.

On 12 April 2015, attacks on foreign nationals continued in KwaZulu-Natal when shops in Umlazi and KwaMashu, outside Durban, were torched. In V Section, a shop owned by a foreign national was set on fire by a mob of suspects. Five people were killed.

On 14 April 2015, looting of foreign shops spread to Verulam, north of Durban, following a day of clashes between locals, foreigners, and police in the city centre, KwaZulu-Natal. About 300 local people looted foreign-owned shops, and only two people were arrested.  A 14-year-old boy became the latest fatality. He was shot dead during looting in KwaNdlanzi, allegedly by two security guards.

The atmosphere remains volatile in South Africa following attacks on foreign nationals that left two people dead as well as threats of more attacks circulating on social media since last week.

Whether the reason for the violence that erupted in South Africa last week is defined as xenophobic or criminality, foreign nationals are living in fear following the attacks that took place mainly in the KwaZulu Natal province.

The government, through the minister of international relations Lindiwe Sisulu, preferred to refer to the attacks as criminality rather than xenophobia though some analysts have maintained that there is a thin line between the two.

Locals in Sydenham displaced more than 150 Malawian nationals in Durban from an informal settlement following attacks.

The displaced foreigners had to seek refuge at police stations and in churches.

According to reports, the affected families lost all their belongings along with other foreign nationals whose small businesses were looted.

Following the attacks, messages of threats of more attacks on foreign nationals have been circulating, living most foreigners in fear.

Addressing journalists after a meeting with African diplomats in the capital, Pretoria, on Monday, Sisulu emphasised that the attacks were not xenophobic but acts of criminality.

“All of us must stand up and send a strong message that violence, all criminal activities, and the looting of properties of foreign nationals will not be tolerated. The police and other law enforcement agencies must act without fear or favour,” said Sisulu.

The minister added that the African continent had contributed and sacrificed a lot for South Africans to be free and liberated from apartheid, hence, the need for the country to exercise tolerance and acceptance to fellow Africans.

“South African companies and our citizens are welcomed and loved across the continent. Here at home, we should do the same. We must embrace our neighbours as fellow Africans,” she added.

Many of the people who were targeted during the turbulences were Malawian citizens, who have since stated that they want to go back to their county. But South Africa’s deputy international relations minister Luwellyn Landers, said Malawians are welcome to stay in South Africa and need not go back home.

Diplomats, who attended the meeting with Sisulu, said engagements with the South African government were encouraging but raised concerns over utterances that promote hatred and divisions by some politicians.

“We remain concerned by the statements of some politicians, which are not helpful and say uncomplimentary things about foreign nationals,” said Kabiru Bala Nigerian High Commissioner.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ambassador to South Africa, Bene M’poko, said it is not enough to define the problem as xenophobia or criminality but that the matter needs to be addressed.

The meeting was also attended by the minister of police, Beki Cele, who vowed to work with communities to ensure the safety of foreigners.

President Cyril Ramaphosa also denounced the attacks on foreigners and urged police to bring those responsible to book.

“As South Africans, we owe our freedom to the solidarity and support given to our liberation struggle by people across our continent and around the world. Today, our economy and society benefits from our extensive trade and investment relations with partners on our continent and many of our continental compatriots live in South Africa where they are making important contributions to the development of our country.

“African development depends on the increased movement of people, goods and services between different countries for all of us to benefit. We will not allow criminals to set back these processes,” said the President.

Over the weekend, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema also condemned the violence and urged unity among Africans.

“Whether you are from South Africa, whether you are from Zimbabwe, whether you are from Nigeria – this is your home,” Malema said.

He also dismissed claims that foreigners were taking South Africans’ jobs, questioning why is that only Africans are being targeted while whites and Chinese also occupy jobs, sometimes without qualifications, but they are never attacked or blamed.

South Africa’s history of Xenophobia or Afrophobia:

1994 to 1995

In December 1994 and January 1995, armed youth gangs in Alexandra Township outside of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, destroyed the homes and property of suspected undocumented migrants and marched the individuals down to the local police station where they demanded that the foreigners be forcibly and immediately removed.

1998

In September 1998, two Senegalese and a Mozambican were thrown from a moving train in Johannesburg by a group of individuals returning from a rally organised by a group blaming foreigners for the levels of unemployment, crime, and even the spread of AIDS.

2000

In August 2000, seven xenophobia-related killings were reported at the Cape Flats district of Cape Town. Seven foreigners from different African countries were killed. Among those who were attacked by South Africans were two Nigerians, one Kenyan, and two Angolans.

2008

On 8 January 2008, two Somali shop owners were murdered in the Eastern Cape towns of Jeffreys Bay and East London. In March 2008, seven people were killed including Zimbabweans, Pakistanis and a Somali after their shops and shacks were set alight in Atteridgeville near Pretoria.

On 11 May 2008, an outburst of violence in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra triggered more xenophobic violence in other townships. Firstly, it only spread in the Gauteng Province. After two weeks, the violence was felt in other major cities across the country, especially in Durban and Cape Town.

2009

From 14 to 17 November 2009, 3,000 Zimbabwean nationals living in the rural community of De Doorns, an informal settlement near Breede Valley Municipality, in the Western Cape were displaced as a result of xenophobic violence. This time, Zimbabweans were selectively targeted despite the presence of other foreign nationals living and working in the same area.

2013

On 27 February 2013, eight South African police officers tied a 27-year-old Mozambican man, Mido Macia, to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road. The incident resulted in Macia’s death. The incident happened in Daveyton, East of Johannesburg, South Africa.

On 26 May 2013, two Zimbabwean men were killed by a South African mob in xenophobic violence in Diepsloot, South Africa.

2015

In January 2015, Somali shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, Siphiwe Mahori, during an alleged robbery in Soweto Township. The boy was shot in the neck and died within 15 minutes. Lebogang Ncamla, 23, was another victim when he was shot three times in the arm. The incident triggered waves of attacks and looting of foreign owned shops.

On 5 March 2015, xenophobic attacks occurred in Limpopo Province. Foreigners on the outskirts of Polokwane left their shops after protesting villagers threatened to burn them alive and then looted them. Violence erupted in the Ga-Sekgopo area after a foreign shop owner was found in possession of a mobile phone belonging to a local man who was killed.

On 8 April 2015, a spate of xenophobic violence occurred after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made comments that foreigners should go back to their home countries because they are changing the nature of South African society with their goods and enjoying wealth that should have been for local people.

On 12 April 2015, attacks on foreign nationals continued in KwaZulu-Natal when shops in Umlazi and KwaMashu, outside Durban, were torched. In V Section, a shop owned by a foreign national was set on fire by a mob of suspects. Five people were killed.

On 14 April 2015, looting of foreign shops spread to Verulam, north of Durban, following a day of clashes between locals, foreigners, and police in the city centre, KwaZulu-Natal. About 300 local people looted foreign-owned shops, and only two people were arrested.  A 14-year-old boy became the latest fatality. He was shot dead during looting in KwaNdlanzi, allegedly by two security guards.

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