To: His Excel­lency Jacob Zuma, Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of South Africa

Min­is­ter of Police, Hon­or­able Nkosi­nathi Nhleko

 

His Excel­lency

Re: Increased xeno­pho­bic vio­lence in South Africa: Con­cerns of the African Dias­pora

Forum (ADF)

We have been engaged in work­ing for a soci­ety free of xeno­pho­bia and all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion since 2008. At our level, with lit­tle resources, we have man­aged to reach out to com­mu­ni­ties in Alexan­dra, Orange Farms, Katle­hong, Diep­sloot, Thokoza, Prim­rose, etc. to appease the vio­lence and build cohe­sive soci­eties. Today, we are deeply wor­ried about the cur­rent course of vio­lence across the coun­try and the lack of effec­tive response from the gov­ern­ment to deal with xeno­pho­bia. The cost of the vio­lence has been esti­mated to many losses of lives, mil­lions of Rands lost dur­ing the loot­ing and thou­sands of dis­place­ments since 2008. More­over, the rep­u­ta­tion of South Africa as a united and rain­bow nation is now ques­tion­able. Between 2008–2014, we have reg­is­tered dozens of attacks on for­eign nation­als from var­i­ous parts of South Africa. Although the police was deployed and is work­ing tire­lessly to restore peace, there are no account­abil­ity struc­tures for per­pe­tra­tors. We appeal to you to assist in build­ing struc­tures that can restore cohe­sion and peace in our respec­tive com­mu­ni­ties.

Despite the esca­la­tion of vio­lence over the past 6 years caus­ing numer­ous deaths, the gov­ern­ment has denied that there is xeno­pho­bia in South Africa, always ques­tion­ing the nature of this vio­lence and attribut­ing it to ‘crime’, instead of rec­og­niz­ing it for what it is – xeno­pho­bic vio­lence. e.g. crime tar­get­ing for­eign­ers. We are still to hear top mem­bers of gov­ern­ment, con­demn­ing the cur­rent xeno­pho­bic vio­lence. This atti­tude, from our per­spec­tive, has con­doned the vio­lence and allowed it to reach insti­tu­tional heights mak­ing things even more dif­fi­cult for for­eign nation­als liv­ing in South Africa, but also for South Africans wish­ing for social peace and inte­gra­tion.

For exam­ple, we and sev­eral other organ­i­sa­tions assist­ing migrants have reported high lev­els of cor­rup­tion and inhu­man treat­ment in gov­ern­ment struc­tures like Refugee Recep­tion Offices and hos­pi­tals where migrants are treated like ani­mals, but our con­cerns have received lit­tle atten­tion.

Increas­ingly, strin­gent leg­is­la­tion makes it almost impos­si­ble for migrants to legally con­duct busi­ness and reside in the coun­try. Even migrants who want to com­ply are dis­cour­aged to do so by non-realistic reg­u­la­tions and imprac­ti­cal insti­tu­tions. Far from dimin­ish­ing migra­tion, this only increases ‘ille­gal’ migrants in the coun­try and fuels ten­sions. It detracts the police ser­vices from fight­ing crime, and pushes them instead in track­ing migrants that have been ren­dered ille­gal through the sys­tem and leg­is­la­tion. New rules bar­ring for­eign­ers from mean­ing­fully par­tic­i­pat­ing in the eco­nomic and polit­i­cal life of South Africa are also fuel­ing the divi­sion between res­i­dents in this coun­try along nation­al­ity lines – An exam­ple of this is Gaut­eng leg­is­la­tion pro­hibit­ing for­eign­ers from occu­py­ing exec­u­tive posi­tions in Com­mu­nity Polic­ing Forum (CPF).

It is unfor­tu­nate that Gov­ern­ment has not put its full energy in cre­at­ing a ter­rain where for­eign nation­als can access doc­u­men­ta­tion, basic ser­vices, and pro­tec­tion as stip­u­lated in the South African Con­sti­tu­tion; where they can be encour­aged and sup­ported in mean­ing­fully con­tribut­ing to South African nation-building. The South African gov­ern­ment has instead cre­ated a favor­able envi­ron­ment for the mak­ing of ille­gal immi­grants (treated as ‘crim­i­nals’) in its impos­si­ble attempt to rein­force its bor­der con­trol. As a result, the police and most of the gov­ern­men­tal struc­tures have entered to a war against for­eign­ers instead of pro­vid­ing ser­vice to the pop­u­la­tion in terms of fight­ing real crime. That might explain why some for­eign­ers hes­i­tate to call the police when con­fronted to attacks, and resort to self-defense lead­ing to the dra­matic con­se­quences we are fac­ing today.

We are not only back to a 2008 sit­u­a­tion.

We have done a lot of great works with some police offi­cers in Gaut­eng espe­cially the Hill­brow Clus­ter, to improve lives of both South Africans and migrants locally: together we focused on fight­ing the real crime affect­ing the com­mu­nity. We would like this exam­ple of respon­si­ble polic­ing to be rolled out around the coun­try.

But in real­ity and in spite of these coura­geous efforts, we are worse off as a soci­ety than in 2008, as xeno­pho­bic atti­tude and speeches have now pen­e­trated state insti­tu­tions and affected both the basis and the top of the state.

Besides the work of a few indi­vid­ual police offi­cers, there are big issues with polic­ing in the coun­try. SAPS has an agree­ment with Home Affairs and often con­duct joint oper­a­tion to track ille­gal immi­grants. SAPS offi­cers on the ground as a con­se­quence resort to the most xeno­pho­bic prac­tices, in line with what has now become a dis­pro­por­tion­ate part of their man­date. Xeno­pho­bic behav­ior and atti­tude of police offi­cers, incite­ment to vio­lence in com­mu­ni­ties, are con­stantly reported by our mem­bers.

City of Johan­nes­burg offi­cials in charge of eco­nomic devel­op­ment are also work­ing with Home Affairs, to try and track for­eign infor­mal traders, rather than focus­ing on a devel­op­men­tal agenda for infor­mal traders that would ben­e­fit the whole soci­ety.

More sym­bol­i­cally, the City of Johan­nes­burg refused to involve the City in host­ing the World Social Forum on Migra­tion, an inter­na­tional event held in Johan­nes­burg in Decem­ber 2014.

What a sym­bol for a City that aims to be the gate­way to Africa!

We could mul­ti­ply such exam­ples.

Gen­er­ally, why are politi­cians and state offi­cials today argu­ing about the nature of the cur­rent vio­lence, with no one con­demn­ing xeno­pho­bic behav­ior, firmly and strongly? What are they wait­ing for?

His Excel­lency, we humbly request:

  • A Strongly and unequiv­o­cally con­dem­na­tion of xeno­pho­bic vio­lence in all its forms.
  • Any pub­lic offi­cial or politi­cian mak­ing xeno­pho­bic state­ments should be held account­able and strongly sanc­tioned, as all offi­cials and politi­cians have a lead­er­ship role to play
  • A focus on com­bat­ting crime and fight­ing for social cohe­sion through job cre­ation while allow­ing the con­tri­bu­tion of migrants in for­mal and infor­mal sec­tor.
  • An engage­ment at pol­icy level, recon­sid­er­ing migra­tion pol­icy, which would stop crim­i­nal­iz­ing for­eign­ers and empha­size the ben­e­fits of work­ing together embrac­ing diver­sity.
  • Recon­sid­er­ing the cur­rent focus on direct­ing so many state’s efforts and resources track­ing ‘ille­gal migrants’, and instead divert­ing state resources to real ills of the South African soci­ety – inequal­ity, unemployment…etc.

We thank you for the atten­tion you will give to this mat­ter and we are look­ing for­ward to build­ing a South Africa where migrants and South Africans can live together and build a bet­ter Africa for all.

Respect­fully,

On behalf of the African Dias­pora Forum (ADF)

Marc Gbaf­fou, Chair­per­son