“No-one should be above the law,” says Kristi Ueda.
Ueda, who works for the Human Rights Watch (HRW), is the author of a report on xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
She made her remarks during the launch of a 64-page report titled They Have Robbed Me of My Life: Xenophobic Violence Against Non-Nationals in South Africa on Thursday morning.
The report focused on the violence against African and Asian foreign nationals between March last year and March this year.
Despite an action plan to combat xenophobia, government had done very little to ensure that attacks by members of the public, the police and government officials are investigated and that those responsible are held accountable, said the report.
Two children aged 10 and 11, were among 51 people, who were interviewed as part of the report.
They live in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, which according to Ueda, recorded most xenophobic attacks.
Government announced the National Action Plan (NAP) to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance following a spate of xenophobic attacks last year.
At Thursday’s launch, Ueda was at pains describing how government departments had failed to respond to their findings and recommendations.
She detailed the challenges relating to the negative impact created by denialism of xenophobia in government circles.
Part of their findings included that children of foreign nationals were encountering xenophobic sentiments in schools and provides recommendations on how schools could be assisted to deal with this.
She said a number of advocacy campaigns and meetings would be held to ensure that government acted on the report’s findings and recommendations.
HRW said in a statement that foreign nationals have been scapegoated and blamed for economic insecurity, crimes and government failures to deliver services. They have also been targets of nationwide protests and shutdowns characterised by mob violence, looting and the torching of their businesses.
In early September last year, the organisation said mobs wielding weapons and chanting anti-foreigner slogans attacked and forcibly displaced them, destroying thousands worth of their business and homes.
The organisation said none of those interviewed had recovered financially or achieved justice.
“Although government stated that 10 of the 12 killed in the violence were South Africans, HRW has found that at least 18 foreign nationals were killed during the violence. Government and law enforcement authorities have repeatedly claimed that these waves of violence were purely criminal and not motivated by xenophobia,” read the statement.
One of the participants told the organisation: “I was selling clothes on the street when nine South Africans carrying sjamboks and sticks came. They were beating people, shouting ‘You foreigners, go home! We don’t need you here! You are taking our jobs and money!’ I started to run away, but I was beaten, and my two bags of clothes were taken.”
Ueda said government’s decision to launch the NAP was a positive step. “But clearly more urgent, concrete measures are needed, particularly to end violence, police harassment, and impunity,” Ueda said.
She said protecting foreign nationals from further attacks and ending impunity for xenophobic violence required a long-term strategy and not just words. The organisation also said while the NAP provided a framework to address many of the problems faced by foreign nationals, but it seemed to have had very little impact on the lives of Asian and African foreigners living in the country.