State ‘needs to do more’ to prevent xenophobia

2015-03-04 11:11

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South Africa’s state institutions have been accused of being complicit when it comes to xenophobia, and various organisations have collectively called for the government to take a firm position on xenophobic attacks.

The view that the government was not doing enough to prevent xenophobic attacks from occurring was shared last night at the Mail & Guardian African truth talk hosted by the University of the Witwatersrand.

The chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, Marc Gbaffou, accused South Africa’s state institutions of being complicit in xenophobia.

“The response of some officials at places such as the South African Revenue Service, home affairs department and some city departments has been clearly xenophobic. We’ve heard government officials calling on foreign nationals to share their trade secrets in exchange for their safety in the townships,” he said referring to comments made by Minister of Small Business Lindiwe Zulu.

While speaking about how the government would tackle the looting and violence against foreign business owners, Zulu said: “Foreign business owners in South Africa’s townships cannot expect to coexist peacefully with local business owners unless they share trade secrets.”

Gbaffou said he had heard from migrants who had had their cars stolen and, upon reporting it to the police, were asked by the police “if they left Burundi with cars”.

There was also the case of a woman who went to report a rape and was asked by police who asked her to come to South Africa, Gbaffou added.

The panel – which included representatives from the United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the African Diaspora Forum, the International Organisation for Migration, the University of Witwatersrand and the Consulate General of Nigeria – was moderated by 702 Afternoon Drive host, Xolani Gwala.

“The main official line of the government has been denialism; they say that xenophobia is not an issue,” Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher at the University of Witwatersrand, said.

“There were those who were concerned that xenophobic attacks might happen again after 2008. We were seen to be prophets of doom, but it has been revealed now that no effective preventative measures were taken by the South African government,” Misago added.

The Nigerian ambassador to South Africa, Uche Ajulu-Okeke, called for South Africans to prioritise the growing issue of xenophobia because they themselves come from a past of institutionalised exclusion and understood what the impacts of excluding people could be on a society.

“Migrants in this country are painted as terrorists or a threat to national security and are constantly facing unfounded claims of criminality. Criminal stereotypes against Nigerians have led to abuse and Nigerians cannot rely on protection from the South African police,” she said.

Clementine Awu Nkweta-Salami, representative for the UN Refugee Agency, said that despite having one of the best constitutions in the world, South Africa was failing to meet the challenge of implementing its objectives.

Many members of the audience agreed that the government was not doing enough to educate the public and inform them about misperceptions of migrants in the country.

Richard Ots, Chief of Mission at the International Organisation for Migration ended off the evening by calling for South Africa to “maintain its reputation for diversity and hospitality”.

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