South Africa’s Government Scapegoats Immigrants for Economic Problems

Three people have died in South Africa after attacks on foreign-owned stores. Another person is currently being treated for smoke inhalation. In the attacks, black South Africans began looting and burning businesses and properties that belong to immigrants.

The President of the Nigeria Union South Africa, Adetola Olubajo said: “Late in the evening of Sunday, September 1, a group of violent locals suspected to be Zulu hostel dwellers besieged Jules Street in Malvern, Johannesburg, [and] looted and burned shops/businesses.

“The mob also looted several shops that were around the vicinity suspected to be owned by foreign nationals.” According to Mr. Olubanjo, over 50 shops and businesses were looted and burned overnight, totalling a loss of millions of rands.

“The means of livelihood of people were looted and destroyed by fire overnight which has left many Nigerians traumatised,” he continued. “Nigerian-owned businesses were seriously affected. A car sales business owned by a Nigerian [was] among the several businesses set ablaze over the night.

“Although the police said that many people had been arrested in connection with the unnecessary attacks, the looting and burning of foreign-owned businesses continued till Monday morning,’’ he added.

The tension between black South Africans and black African immigrants has been escalating for decades in democratic South Africa. White South Africans retained control of most of the country’s wealth after apartheid, in what is called “white monopoly capital”.This has led to massive economic inequality between white and black South Africans, as poverty and unemployment stagnates the economic growth of South Africa’s black populace.

The End of Apartheid?

Foreigners are scapegoats of economic inequality in the country. In February 2017, a group from Pretoria, called the Mamelodi Concerned Residents, staged a march against alleged illegal immigrants in the country. In a flyer distributed in Johannesburg, the capital city, the group protested against South Africa’s lax immigration policies.

“Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Pakistanis etc. are not our countrymen,” the flyer read. “Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Pakistanis etc. bring nothing but destruction; hijack our buildings sell drugs, inject young South African ladies with drugs and sell them as prostitutes. How is that helping us? They have destroyed beloved Johannesburg and now they are destroying Pretoria.”

This demonstration led, all month, to attacks and looting of the homes of Malawians, Nigerians and Somalians, some of whom fought back.

During the February 2017 violence, Abdirazak Osman of the Somali Community Board of South Africa said: “We have been trying to endure the challenges we face in this country but it seems the people are running out of patience and have decided to fight back.”

Xenophobia against foreigners has a history dating back to the end of apartheid in South Africa. The majority of South Africa’s anti-immigrant violence, has taken place in Johannesburg. Many immigrants have been shot, burned alive, chased away or forcibly transported to police stations to be deported. Immigrants are routinely accused of having no legal papers, transporting drugs, stealing South African women and bringing crime into the country.

Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekulu, the King of the Zulu Nation widely known for his lavish spending, in a tactic similar to those used during the Rwandan genocide, likened South Africa’s immigrants to “lice” and “ants” and told them to “go back to their countries”.

“We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries,” he said during a public speech.

“The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.

“I know you [South African nationals] were in their countries during the struggle for liberation. But the fact of the matter is you did not set up businesses in their countries,” he said.

Following the recent South African attacks against Nigerians, Nigeria’s foreign affairs minister Geoffrey Onyema tweeted: “Received sickening and depressing news of continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops and premises in #SouthAfrica by mindless criminals with ineffective police protection. Enough is enough. We will take definitive measures.”

South Africa’s government continues to meet decades of anti-immigrant violence with inaction, prompting criticism that they are creating a “new apartheid“, using foreigners as scapegoats for the country’s economic inequalities.

Xenophobia in Ghana

In Ghana, xenophobic attacks against immigrants is also rising. Last month, Nigerian traders were attacked by Ghanaian traders, after the Ghanaian Parliament barred Nigerian retail traders from trading in the country.

Dr Joseph Obeng, president of the Ghana Union of Traders Association, said: “These foreign retailers have found a loophole in our retail laws and are capitalising on that…We will not sit down and watch them take over our market.”

“If a Ghanaian sells something in the market for $7, a Nigerian will come in and sell it for $4, then take that money back to Nigeria,” an InsideOver source from Ghana explained.