A wave of violence against foreign nationals has been sweeping over Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The targets of South African youth ire include people from Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zimbabwe; the cause of the angst includes unemployment, poverty and a criminal element, observers state.
Hundreds have been injured and worse—a dozen people have been reportedly killed, and hundreds have been arrested in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
South African Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor told Reuters, “There is Afrophobia we are sensing that exists, there is resentment and we need to address that.”
While the white elite, who still enjoy the benefits of Apartheid legacy, sit back out of the glare of analysis, criminality and what South African national and international celebrity/commentator Trevor Noah called “misplaced anger” are being cited as contributory reasons for the resurgence of the violence which was seen as early as 2008.
South African activist Julius Sello Malema has been consistently vocal on the issue, “Our anger is directed at wrong people. Like all of us, our African brothers & sisters are selling their cheap labor for survival.” Malema, the commander in chief of Economic Freedom Fighters and self-proclaimed “Revolutionary activist for radical change in Africa,” noted, “The owners of our wealth is white monopoly capital; they are refusing to share it with us [and] the ruling party #ANC protects them.#OneAfricaIsPossible.”
Tensions are high as hundreds of businesses of dozens of foreign nationals hunker down or altogether leave their stores, places of business. May are returning to their country of origin.
Meanwhile businesses are shuttering their doors in the wake of the continued violence. According to Legit.ng, telecommunications giant “MTN has closed its outlet across the federation over the concern of its staff members in the ongoing reprisal xenophobic attacks in the country.” The telecommunications company, however, said that it is still committed to providing quality service in the country. According to a press statement, “the company said it is working with relevant authorities in both South Africa and Nigeria to ensure calm is restored.”
As of press time Wednesday, 600 plus Nigerians were scheduled to be flown back home on private Nigerian airline Air Peace planes.
Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the press, “While there has been a significant decline in the number of incidents, police forces remain on high alert and are closely monitoring hotspots to ensure further violence does not erupt.”
Reprisals against South Africans in countries such as Nigeria have been spoken of, and occurred, but officials are warning against them. Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said he will go to South Africa in October to address the issue. This announcement did nothing to quell the outrage of Nigerians who are demanding more action and condemnation from the leadership.
In Nigeria student leaders are among the frustrated and outraged demanding immediate government action, not rhetoric.
While he sent Ambassador Ahmed Rufai Abubakar, director-general of the National Intelligence Agency, to South Africa, President Buhari has also requested that South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa engage methods to halt the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians living and working in South Africa.
Al Jazeera reported, “In 2008, at least 62 people, including South Africans, were killed. Violence and looting targeting foreign-owned stores left seven dead in 2015.”
While South Africa has closed its embassy in Nigeria for the time being, Nigeria recalled Kabiru Bala, the high commissioner to South Africa and the nation also pulled out of the World Economic Forum which took place in early September in Cape Town.
This violence has been long predicted, if not formulated.
Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, warned as far back as the 1960s that political independence from European colonial oppressors without economic independence was a recipe for disaster. Nkrumah, who authored “The struggle continues,” “Class Struggle in Africa” and “Neo-colonialism: The last stage of imperialism,” among others, was deeply aware of the threats faced by the new states and the ploys of their former oppressors.
“No single part of Africa can be safe, or free to develop fully and independently, while any part remains unliberated,” he wrote.
Nkrumah’s words are resounding today as anti-foreign fever is pitting African against African in Cape Town. Some 600 Nigerians are taking airlifts home after their shops and properties came under attack. More than 100,000 Nigerians are estimated to live in South Africa.
Foreign workers in South Africa—the continent’s second-largest economy after Nigeria—are often victims of anti-immigrant sentiment in a nation where almost a third of people are unemployed. The attacks on foreign stores began a day after South African truckers started a nationwide strike to protest the employment of foreign drivers, reports the BBC. They blocked roads and torched foreign-driven vehicles mainly in the southwestern KwaZulu-Natal province.
In the book “Class Struggle in Africa,” Nkrumah observed that where unemployment is high, worker anger is often channeled against the “alien” workers who are blamed for the scarcity of jobs, the shortage of houses, rising prices and so on.
Today, after 25 years of democracy, South Africa remains the most economically unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank. If anything, the rainbow nation is even more divided now than it was in 1994.
Previously disadvantaged South Africans hold fewer assets, have fewer skills, earn lower wages, and are still more likely to be unemployed, a 2018 World Bank report on poverty and inequality in South Africa found.
Such disparities are unlikely to be helped, however, by policies advanced by Defense and Military Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. “What we see here is criminality, criminals that decide that they are going to take advantage of the challenges that South Africa is facing,” she said in an interview with the Johannesburg, South Africa-based Radio 702. “Law-enforcement agencies should be called upon now to do their work.”