[DEBATE] : The Zambian Post on xenophbia in SA
azwell at ecsecc.org
Wed May 21 12:02:35 BST 2008
Below is today's editorial from The Post of Zambia....it has a rich
historical coverage of SA parties and xenophobia.
South Africa's shameful, dangerous xenophobia
Wednesday May 21, 2008 Print Article Email Article
On the annual celebration of Africa Freedom Day on May 25, 2001, South
African President Thabo Mbeki urged all South Africans to be vigilant
against racism and xenophobia, and warned that otherwise it would undermine
South Africa's young democracy.
And on September 1, 2001, a world conference against racism, racial
discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was held in Durban, South
Africa. Addressing this conference leader of the Cuban Revolution Dr Fidel
Castro said: "Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia are not natural,
instinctive reactions of human beings, but rather are social, cultural and
political phenomena born directly of wars, military conquests, slavery and
individual or collective exploitation of the weakest by the most powerful
throughout the history of human societies."
Fidel also added that: "I have only three short questions, based on
realities that cannot be ignored. The capitalist, developed and wealthy
countries today participate in an imperialist system born of capitalism
itself and in an economic order that is imposed on the world, based on the
philosophy of selfishness and brutal competition between men, nations and
groups of nations, and which is completely indifferent to any feelings of
solidarity or honest international cooperation.
They live under the misleading, irresponsible and hallucinatory atmosphere
of consumer societies. Regardless of the sincerity of their blind faith in
such a system and the convictions of their most serious leaders, I wonder:
Will they be able to understand the grave problems of today's world, which
in its incoherent and uneven development, is ruled by blind laws, the huge
power and the interests of ever-growing, increasingly uncontrollable and
independent transnational corporations? Will they come to understand the
impending universal chaos and rebellion? And, even if they wanted to, could
they put an end to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other
related forms of intolerance, given that this is precisely what they
President Mbeki blamed the levels of xenophobia on the lack of knowledge
about the continent of Africa, international isolation and the focus on
Europe during apartheid, and the mass media for not reporting the continent
in a balanced way.
President Mbeki called for improved teaching about Africa in schools and
institutions of higher learning, not only in history and geography but also
in subjects about culture, language and current political and socioeconomic
President Mbeki's address was fairly consistent with the ANC's public
approach towards xenophobia, which ascribed the problem to the effect of
globalisation, South Africa's history of international exclusion or relative
Seven years later, as we prepare to celebrate Africa Freedom Day once again,
we witness the disgraceful incidents in Alexandra and Diepsloot.
Clearly, South Africa has failed to effectively address the rising tide of
Although the government has, in recent years, begun to recognise the
magnitude of the problem of xenophobia and the need to tackle it in order to
prevent it from undermining their young democracy, politicians have
frequently expressed xenophobic views and have been allowed to present them
as the views of not only their departments, but even of the government
Perhaps most notorious in this respect, was the previous Home Affairs
Minister, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who described the influx of "illegal
immigrants" as his "biggest headache" and, in his introductory speech to
parliament, explicitly stated that "aliens pouring into South Africa" would
hamper economic growth.
Contemporary statements from ANC spokespersons have intimated that human
rights are largely inapplicable to foreigners in general, and migrants in
particular; for example, ANC MP Desmond Lockey said: "There are very few
countries in the world which would extend human rights to non-citizens."
However, xenophobic sentiments are not confined to the ruling party and
criticisms against immigrants have spanned the political spectrum. In the
run-up to the 1999 elections, for example, a range of political parties used
anti-immigration discourse to attract votes.
In an unlikely show of alliance politics, the Pan African Congress (PAC) and
Freedom Alliance (FA), as well as the New National Party (NNP) and the
United Democratic Movement (UDM), raised the spectre of the negative impact
that foreigners are assumed to have on South Africa's economy and society.
The election manifestos of the UDM and the FA explicitly advocated stricter
immigration controls. Images of the NNP's Marthinus van Schalkwyk walking
along South Africa's borders and promising to seal them against illegal
immigrants were flashed across our television screens.
Clearly immigrants are not only stereotyped in the media; they are branded
as potential criminals, drug smugglers and murderers by politicians, and
unreliable figures are bandied around parliament.
The government has also been criticised for its legislation and its focus on
reducing the number of immigrants through repressive measures. The
Immigration Act 2002, for example, gave police and immigration officers the
power to stop anyone and ask them to prove their immigration status.
The 1999 White Paper also contained provisions for a "community enforcement
policy" of the detection, apprehension and deportation of undocumented
migrants, which could be construed as representing a form of
state-sanctioned xenophobia; however this section was dropped by the time
the bill was re-submitted for comment in 2002.
Significantly, while the bill was replete with clear and explicit law
enforcement measures to reduce immigration, conspicuous in their absence
were specific strategies to prevent xenophobia or to protect and promote the
rights of foreigners.
Possibly the most contentious piece of legislation is the 1991 Aliens
Control Act, amended in 1995 and 1996. It has been described as "an archaic
piece of apartheid legislation, at odds with international human rights
norms and the new South African constitution".
The act has its roots in the 1937 Aliens Act, which was intended to exclude
German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution from coming to South Africa, and has
led to the term "alien" becoming synonymous with unwanted immigrant.
Subsequent amendments of the act were almost invariably designed to increase
the repressive power of officials, to place greater control on people's
mobility, to circumscribe the legal rights of aliens and to extend the range
of people to which the act applied.
The term "alien" is unfortunate as it suggests that migrants do not belong,
but also implies difference, strangeness and "otherness".
The government must do more to combat not only xenophobia as a general
concept, but also the specific negative attitudes directed towards other
At present, it could even be accused of contributing to such attitudes as
immigration authorities have been known to introduce tougher entry
procedures (for example higher visa application fees, restriction of
multiple entry visas, requirements to show bank statements and other
documentation) for citizens of certain countries such as Mozambique and
Such restrictions may instead result in more border jumpers among those
denied formal entry, in more employers securing the cheap labour of such
undocumented or illegal border jumpers and in greater exploitation and
impunity by employers.
The government has, on occasion, explicitly stated that foreigners have a
definite potential to contribute to the local economy and, in some cases,
the use of foreign labour may not only be positive but also necessary.
All that remains is for this attitude to be translated into legislation and
to allow it to permeate the public consciousness.
A further option for the government would be to bestow a kind of legitimacy
on immigrants as it did in September 1996, with a one-off indemnity that
gave citizenship rights to undocumented migrants from SADC countries who
could prove they had lived in South Africa for longer than five years, had a
job, or had married a SA citizen and had no criminal record.
The government is also bound, legally and morally, to a number of
international conventions and treaties.
What can South Africa do? First and foremost, it must be made clear that the
primary challenge the government faces is an educational one, as it is
unable to focus on any one group in society.
It has a duty to provide citizens with vicarious knowledge of migrants,
immigrants and refugees as people through the media. It would also be
helpful to encourage a greater sense of continentalism and internationalism
through the media and through the public pronouncements of opinion-makers.
This can be achieved by working with schools, colleges and universities to
include issues such as citizenship and xenophobia in their curricula, and to
stress the positive impact that immigration can have on our economy and
society, by using examples from countries such as the UK and Switzerland.
The media must also play a vital role.
As for specific government policy, it is obvious the government has to go
beyond detecting, detaining and deporting migrants in order to tackle crime,
disease and joblessness. These issues need to be treated completely
separately from that of migration.
One important aspect of xenophobia is the virtual absence of any sense of
solidarity with other countries in SADC; the government must work with other
SADC countries to improve, or even create, a real sense of regional
consciousness among citizens and policy makers.
Finally, police and immigration officers must be trained and sensitised
about human rights and, in particular, the rights of foreigners and refugees
to enjoy freedom from discrimination and full protection from the SA Police
Corruption should also be tackled within the police service and officers
should be punished severely for any abuse of foreigners or the immigration
system as a whole.
This approach should be expanded to the criminal justice system as a whole,
where citizens should be punished to the full extent of the law for racially
motivated crimes and attacks on foreigners.
These attacks on non-South Africans are a cause of real shame and concern.
There are many South Africans working on the copper mines in Zambia and we
don't want them to be subjected to any discrimination on account of them not
being Zambians or on race. We hope this won't happen in any other SADC
country in a way of revenge against any South African.
We call on all South Africans of goodwill to make a firm stand against these
attacks and treat them as hate crimes. Such acts can only take society
backwards and open the wounds of racism and intolerance against which so
many South Africans fought. These thugs, who out of envy, attack foreigners
who have the skills and industry to get jobs must be squarely condemned and
We are deeply concerned about the extent of the humanitarian crisis that is
developing across Gauteng as a result of violent attacks on foreign
Xenophobia must be strongly condemned because it is grossly inhuman to
harass and attack fellow African brothers and sisters. And these are not the
only foreigners in that country. There are many other foreigners from Asia,
Europe and America in South Africa. But they are not being subjected to
similar inhuman and barbaric treatment. Why?
More information about the Debate-list