Targeting foreign nationals is a deflection from the real issues plaguing SA - expert

The aftermath of the looting and protests in Gauteng. (Trevor Kunene, Getty Images)
The aftermath of the looting and protests in Gauteng. (Trevor Kunene, Getty Images)

The targeting of foreign nationals during the recent spate of violence that has gripped Gauteng is a deflection from the real issues South Africans are facing, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) has said.

The unrest, which started in Pretoria last week, has since moved to Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni, where dozens of shops have been looted, many belonging to foreign nationals.

Five people have also been killed as a result of the violence.

READ: Fake, old or not from SA: Don't believe '99%' of the viral Xenophobic messages, police warn

On Wednesday, the CSVR condemned the attacks on foreign nationals and shops, calling the spate of violence xenophobic in nature.

"The CSVR is deeply troubled by the current wave of xenophobic attacks against African nationals living in South Africa and calls on the government to take decisive, swift action to protect lives, bring to book those responsible and address the root causes of this violence," it said in a statement.

"The CSVR is particularly dismayed by the recurrent nature and the intensity of these attacks, as well as the distressing violence, destruction, looting of property and the mass displacement of already vulnerable groups that we are witnessing in Gauteng."

It added it remained concerned that the interventions from the government and law enforcement have done little to quell the anti-immigrant sentiments that have been allowed to fester in South Africa.

"Sadly, the focus on non-foreigners deflects attention from real issues affecting South Africans such as poor service delivery, unemployment, violence, poverty and the failure of the government to deliver on its promises."

READ MORE: Gauteng violence: 5 confirmed dead, 189 arrested

The CSVR's executive director, Nomfundo Mogapi, said political rhetoric on foreign nationals played a contributing factor.

"There are socio-economic aspects that trigger these attacks on African nationals and these are compounded by political rhetoric on immigration by politicians that reinforces negative sentiments toward African migrants," added Mogapi.

Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) agreed with the CSVR's sentiments that blaming foreign nationals for the ills in South Africa was nothing more than scapegoating.

Newham said politicians often apportioned blame to deflect their own failings in the government.

Speaking about the looting, he added criminals preferred to target foreign national-owned shops because they "believe correctly that police will take those cases less seriously".

Newham said xenophobic sentiments were high within the police.

While looting foreign-owned shops as a cover, criminals would still target shops owned by South Africans, he added.

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