Myths ‘fuel attacks’

2015-04-18 00:00

SOUTH Africa must act decisively in response to xenophobia and attacks on foreigners, but solutions must be based on unity and cohesion, not more segregation, according to the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).

Gareth Newham, head of ISS’s Governance, Crime and Justice division, yesterday said in a statement that thousands of foreigners have been displaced and five killed in the latest attacks that started in KwaZulu-Natal last week.

“The negative attitudes of many South Africans toward foreigners remain unchanged since the incidents earlier this year and in 2008 when 62 foreigners were murdered,” said the ­statement.

“These attacks are fuelled by two myths about foreigners … that they take South Africans’ jobs which drives up unemployment [and] that they are a cause of the crime problem.”

Both notions have been ­disproved by research, said ­Newham.

The statement said using data from Statistics South Africa, a study by the Migrating for Work Research Consortium showed that in 2014 just four percent of the working population was made up of foreigners.

Research by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory showed that rather than causing unemployment, international migrants contribute to the ­economy by renting shops from South Africans, providing jobs to locals and paying value-added tax. Foreigners who run ­businesses employ more South Africans than South African-run businesses do.

“And while some foreign nationals engage in crime, most do not. South Africans perpetrate the vast majority of crime in the country,” said the ISS.

This is acknowledged in Statistics South Africa’s National Victims of Crime Survey released in 2014, which shows that 95% of the 30 000 households surveyed said crime in their area was committed by South Africans. Only five percent said that crime in their area was caused by foreigners.”

“Immigration is a sensitive subject globally,” said ISS ­researcher Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo.

“The recent backlash against immigrants in European Union countries by conservative political parties clearly demonstrates this. Attitudes in South Africa toward foreign nationals ­therefore seem to mirror conservative concerns in other parts of the world.”

But given the lessons learnt from its racially divided past and the values enshrined in the country’s Constitution, it is ­legitimate to expect better of South Africa on this score, said Tamukamoyo.

“Government does not seem to have learnt from the past. Xenophobia is becoming a barometer of dissatisfaction for the lack of service delivery and jobs. Frustrated South Africans are picking on soft targets.”

According to Newham, the country is heading dangerously close to introducing a new form of apartheid in which foreign ­nationals are segregated from local communities and are subject to second-class treatment.

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