Socio-economic problems behind SA’s xenophobia, says UN

2010-09-29 12:08

Socio-economic problems are the major cause of xenophobia in South Africa, according to the United Nations (UN) refugee agency.

“No society is xenophobic by nature, these attacks were caused by lack of development,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees deputy regional representative Sergio Calle Norena told the Congress of SA Trade Unions’ summit on xenophobia in Johannesburg.

He said it was not impossible to address such attacks, during which 62 people were killed in May 2008, saying South Africans needed better access to employment.
Employers should further stop paying foreigners less than locals.

Norena said the creation of permanent anti-xenophobia structures for intervention and prevention of attacks would help, as would monitoring emerging threats, informing the police in time and effective response from authorities.

The 2008 attacks caused much pain and left many foreigners displaced because the government and all the relevant structures had been caught off guard.

“In the 2010 attacks, there was more proactive approach because the emerging threats were identified in time. The country was successful in its response and less pain was caused.”

‘An ongoing feature’

The University of the Witwatersrand’s Forced Migration Studies Programme researcher Tara Polzer said violence against foreigners and internal migrants had been an ongoing feature of post-apartheid South Africa.

“While the most intense period of attacks took place in May 2008, similar patterns of violence began long before and have yet to stop.

“Violence against foreign nationals typically occurs in locales with high (but not highest) levels of economic deprivation, high percentage of male residents, high level of informal housing, and high levels of language diversity (including many South African and foreign languages).”

The key trigger of violence was local competition for political (formal or informal) and economic power, she said.

“Violence against foreign nationals and ethnic ‘minorities’ is a symptom of broader challenges of legitimate and accountable local governance, especially in informal settlements.”

Polzer said the violence was likely to continue without concerted efforts to address impunity and “scapegoating”.

The government had made small steps in these directions, but much remained to be done.

Cosatu’s international secretary Bongani Masuku said they were looking at ways of preventing xenophobic attacks in future.

Xenophobia in the work place would also be discussed at the summit, its impact on the labour market and workers’ rights.

Cosatu was looking at developing a programme against xenophobia in the four provinces worst hit in the countrywide attacks in 2008 – Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

“The programme will include locals. We will look at the impact and how to strengthen workers’ responses to xenophobia and build community structures against xenophobia.” 

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