Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Burning the Welcome Mat: Xenophobia in South Africa



A surge of violent xenophobic attacks has swept through the South African province of
Gauteng, particularly the greater Johannesburg area, in the past week, leaving at least 32 people dead, scores more injured, and thousands homeless Since Sunday 11 May, daily outbreaks of violence against foreigners have ravaged the city - including multiple incidents of sexual assault, beating, shooting, looting and burning of homes and businesses. The AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and its partners across the SADC region strongly condemn this despicable violence, and are disturbed by the utterly inadequate response of the South African government to the volatile situation - one that independent media observers have likened to a war zone.


The humanitarian impact of the xenophobic attacks in Gauteng is
devastating. It is estimated that up to 10,000 foreigners
throughout the province are now destitute, either due to
destruction of their homes or because they had to flee for safety,
leaving all of their belongings behind. Hundreds of foreigners have
sought shelter in police stations and many have been turned back to
the streets to face brutal mobs. Centres for refugees run by
non-governmental organizations are filled past capacity, with many
experiencing shortages of essential medical supplies, food,
clothing, blankets and sanitary services. Some paramedics sent to
provide emergency care at the scenes of violence have been forced
to retreat under attack.

Beyond the obvious humanitarian crisis, the situation also reveals
a crisis of leadership in South Africa. High-level condemnation of
these attacks is not being matched by the urgent action that is
necessary to contain them. Actions taken to date by the South
African government have proven woefully insufficient to stem the
fierce wave of xenophobia and its devastating aftermath. Police,
health and social service systems are ill-equipped to respond
adequately to this emergency. A government panel mandated to 'look
into' these attacks and a provincial task team were only
established one week after the violence broke out; and so far have not articulated any emergency plan to improve the government's response to this crisis - including, most importantly, a plan to provide secure shelter for survivors of violence and potential victims. Without the guarantee of secure shelter for refugees remaining in South Africa, the current undertaking not to deport anyone in Gauteng is meaningless.

Meanwhile, civil society organizations are receiving information on
planned attacks in other cities. On the night of Sunday 18 May,
residents in Mitchell's Plain, a township in Cape Town, mobilized
and began chanting slogans calling for an attack on foreigners,
which was avoided by quick police intervention. However, no
standing plan has been established to pre-empt outbreaks of
xenophobic violence in other parts of the country.

The current events have been driven by the broader human rights
crisis that has built up in South Africa around migrant issues. The
very police and social services that are now mandated to deal with
this outbreak of violence have themselves been implicated in
xenophobic incidents several times in recent months. The failure of
the South African government to respond strongly to widespread
episodes of discrimination and violence against migrants and to
confront the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe - from
which the majority of migrants in South Africa originate - has
turned what should have been a haven for refugees fleeing the
brutality of Mugabe's regime, into a nightmare.

ARASA and its partners call upon the South African government to
urgently develop and implement an emergency national response to
violence against foreigners. This must include:

* Ensuring that civil authorities, particularly the police, have
the capacity to respond immediately to all incidents of violence
against migrants;

* A guarantee that all survivors of violence, in fact, all
migrants, receive basic services - including health care, food,
sanitation services, clothing and secure shelter, regardless of
their immigration status, as is due to them under the South African
Constitution;

* Fast-tracked prosecution of the perpetrators of xenophobic
violence;

* A mass education campaign designed to tackle xenophobia in
communities and to ensure that non-citizens are aware of their
rights and protections; and

* The formation of task forces in each province that will
coordinate swift action to pre-empt and if necessary to respond to
outbreaks of xenophobic violence elsewhere in the country.

Furthermore, we call on the government to ensure that the panel
responsible for investigating these attacks acts swiftly and
transparently and that its mandate be expanded to include a more
general investigation into the treatment of migrants in South
Africa.

Moreover, we call on the African Union, SADC Secretariat,
governments in the region, President Mbeki, and ANC President Zuma
to respond responsibly to the crisis in Zimbabwe by doing
everything in their power to ensure free and fair elections at the
end of June and an end to political violence in the lead-up to and
aftermath of the elections.

Finally, we expect all of our leaders to ensure that those seeking
refuge in South Africa and other countries in the region are
treated with the dignity and compassion that is their inalienable
human right, regardless of citizenship or ethnicity.

Gregg Gonsalves
AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa
http://www.arasa.info/
Cape Town, South Africa
Email: gregg.gonsalves@gmail.com

SOURCE: Africafocus


7 comments:

wayetu moore said...

The reason this issue makes me so sad is because when I first heard of it, I (wrongly) assumed that white South Africans were committing the hate crimes. When I found out that black South Africans were the ones inflicting harm, I was amazed. It makes me feel as though there is SO much work to be done in helping blacks around the world realize the strength in their numbers and unity. Also, the fact that South Africans suffered oppression for so long and aren't considering their journey in the treatment of Zimbabweans is discouraging. It's a lot like how we blacks in America, (sometimes unconsciously) can make racist remarks about other minority groups, specifically Asians and even Sub-Saharan African newly immigrant groups, even though we've suffered much of the same.

Tim said...

Good Job! :)

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