Johannesburg – Tensions between locals and foreign nationals are at an all-time high. The call by Put South Africans First (PSAFirst) for the replacement of foreign nationals with locals in the business sector is seen as inciting violence.
This violence was seen when Diepsloot residents took to the streets to demand more police officers on the street and for foreigners to leave. They blame foreigners for drugs and the high crime rate.
To rid foreign nationals from the area, a group went door to door illegally demanding cash, identity documents or travel documents. Elvis Nyathi, a Zimbabwean man, was accosted outside his shack, dragged out, beaten, and then burnt to death.
It is believed this group was formed by Operation Dudula and echoed chants that those on social media posted under the banner of PSAFirst. These posts call for violence and the forced removal of foreigners from their jobs as well as houses.
They have been accused of inciting violence, yet the organisation believes otherwise. Kwena Molekwa, PSAFirst secretary-general, believes there is no truth to those accusations.
“We are not inciting violence. We have never been violent. I think since the beginning of the campaign we have never gotten violent against any African migrant or any foreigner for that matter.”
They have distanced themselves from the comments made by people online and reiterated that their campaign never called for violence and these people are not part of their group.
“In politics we speak of third forces that are always there. Whether you are doing something that is good, or you are not doing something that is good. They are not being engineered by us. Those that are led by us know that we do not actually advocate for violence against foreign nationals … We have never actually incited violence or instructed our members primarily to act violently. We are aware as a movement that there are third forces and people that are claiming to represent us, and those people need to stop.”
Although PSAFirst has said they do not share the same anti-immigration sentiments that people make using their name, Dr Vusi Sibanda, Chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum (ADF), still holds them responsible for the increase in anti-immigration sentiments seen throughout South Africa.
Sibanda has seen that the major political parties have been slowly shying away from making any anti-immigrant comments as they have in the past but rather, the bulk of the comments are coming from smaller parties like PSAFirst and Patriotic Alliance.
What the ADF wishes to do is change the sentiments being shared about immigrants.
“Our main goal is to try and bring social cohesion and integration between migrants and communities and to make this work together and realise that migrants are not enemies but are people that have migrated for various reasons. And they are not necessarily in the country to come and create crime or take anything away from native South Africans.”
While anti-immigrant activism has been on the rise, Dr Sibanda believes the organisation has not failed in their duty as they have had many organisations, even the president, speak out on these actions and groups like Operation Dudula.
“We have seen a number of people, including the president himself, coming up and showing that they are not happy and pleased about this. Starting from when Dudula came up. There wasn’t much that was being said by a lot of organisations but when we took this up and condemned it completely, we’ve also seen quite a number of organisations coming up that understand and care to understand to say, ‘no this is wrong’. We are making strides into trying and getting everybody to realise that vigilantism is unacceptable and unlawful.”
South Africa’s infrastructure is suffering under the pressure of the current population. In addition to this, there has been an increase in foreign nationals. Some citizens blame them for the lack of services available or the slow delivery of services. The Democratic Alliance wants to bring about a law where the countries of foreign national’s themselves will foot their hospital bill. Dr Sibanda welcomed it but was also quick to point out that every immigrant pays taxes in one way or another and should be entitled to the services of this country.
“Every migrant, including those that are irregular, contribute to the tax purse of this country because they consume food, they use public transport and everything that they use, which they pay money for, they pay tax. It is very myopic to say that any person is having a free ride. That is based on a false sense of thinking that the only person contributing towards the tax purse is someone who earns and pays employee tax. That’s not the only tax that is paid in the country. It’s a small fraction. Ideally every person living in South Africa including pensioners contribute to the tax purse. And no one should be excluded from using such services.”
Dr Sibanda reiterated that the organisation is not about letting illegal immigrants into South Africa. Though people try to portray them as such, they want everyone to be in this country legally.
Political analyst Sello Lediga believes Operation Dudula is the creation of the ANC because of their lack of action when it comes to protecting the borders. He lays the blame squarely at the feet of the ANC.
“If the ANC government had done its work, there would be no need for Dudula. Nature does not allow a vacuum. I’ll never support vigilantism. The ordinary people in the township are the ones that are fighting for limited resources with foreigners. At the end of the day, a South African without a job sees a foreigner coming from work with their plastic from Pick N Pay with food, becomes jealous and believes that this should have been my job. These South Africans must be protected by their government which is supposed to do so.”
This lack of protection can be seen as the reason for what happened in Diepsloot. The gruesome murder now has Zimbabweans living in Diepsloot fearing for their lives and has sparked conversation that xenophobic attacks, that we saw during May 2008, may once again happen.
Although that is the concern, Dr Claudelle Von Eck, Founder of Brave Inflection, doesn’t believe we are seeing xenophobia, as the incidents don’t fit the meaning.
“Xenophobia comes from the Greek. It is literally translated to fear or hatred of others and that you find strange or foreign. I’m not sure that what we’re dealing with in South Africa is necessarily fear of others or hatred of others as opposed to dealing with the internal issues and we need to expect to see what we’re seeing now.”
According to Dr Von Eck, what is happening right now is people responding to the lack of resources and opportunities which they believe are being taken by foreign nationals. The key issues, she says, have nothing to do with xenophobia but all to do with the government, corruption and having people in government that don’t belong there.
“Our government has failed. I don’t think that they have done enough to turn our situation around. I don’t think our policies are pro-poor and in a developmental state like South Africa you cannot just have a focus on one part of the society … We get shocked when we see South Africans do things like the looting, like what we refer to as the xenophobia attacks but if you really sit down and think about it, why would you have a different response from human beings who have literally been dehumanised by a previous regime and the current regime hasn’t done enough to bring them to a point where they can feel that they can live with dignity,” said Dr Von Eck.
To put an end to this unnecessary and brutal violence will require the assistance of government, businesses and leaders in the community who know how to lead. More needs to be done in terms of education. Better education will provide citizens with the foundation required to take care of themselves. Entrepreneurial policies need to be put in place for opportunities to increase. Big businesses can do more for society.
Should this situation continue unabated, people will begin to hate and fear foreigners. This could lead to violence which can then be classified as xenophobic attacks, said Dr Von Eck.
What we are currently seeing in Diepsloot is not xenophobia, it is an artificially created violence formed by government and political officials said Sandile Swana, a political analyst who also shared his thoughts with Salaamedia.
“This is artificially created with political economic objectives and more especially a cover-up of the poor performance of the leading elites in various spheres of South African society. Let me just make this quick point … If the problem is that people are not documented, all your biometrics can be captured in fifteen minutes. Technologically there is no constraint to solving the problem of whether people are documented or not. The constraint comes from the issue that it takes a long time to process applications for citizenship, for permanent residency, for asylum and so on and that should be separated from the issue of documenting people.”
In the end, the violence we are currently seeing, some say, is not because South Africans are afraid or hate foreign nationals but comes from a place of desperation. People are currently suffering due to a lack of jobs and resources. Inefficiency, corruption, and lack of action by the government further exacerbates the problem. If things do not change, we may very well see violence break out even worse than the 2008 attacks.
Ashraf Garda in conversation with Dr Vusi Sibanda and Sello Lediga:
Ashraf Garda talks to Dr Claudelle Von Eck and Sandile Swana:
Maryam Mkwanda and guest Kwena Molekwa from Put SA First: