News / Africa

South Africa Hosts Diaspora Summit

TEXT SIZE - +
JOHANNESBURG - South Africa is hosting a first-ever African Diaspora Summit to bring prominent Africans abroad into contact with the continent's leaders to discuss ways of harnessing their expertise for African development. The main theme is unity and tapping what is considered the underutilized talents of the African diaspora. But the host city is not necessarily a good example of unity among African immigrant communities.

Nigerian immigrant Jude Umennaka stands in front of the Radium hotel in downtown Johannesburg.  He worked here until four years ago when the the place came under attack during a night of deadly xenophobic violence.  Many foreigners were staying there.

"I was called by the manager who was assisting me and he told me there was problems here," Umennaka recalled. "I rushed down here.  I saw a group of people carrying a whole lot of weapons, chasing the people from up to town.  And I ran away.  I came back after one hour or two, everything here has been looted.  I never expected it.  It was a surprise."

The Radium was one of many places and people victimized on that night of anti-foreigner violence in and around Johannesburg.  In the weeks that followed, riots and attacks on non-South Africans spread throughout the country.  The attacks left more than 60 dead, hundreds injured, and displaced thousands from their homes.

Analysts said the hostility toward African immigrants stemmed from many causes, including an intense competition for jobs and housing in impoverished areas.

Umennaka says at least he wasn't hurt but he lost his job.  Four years later, he thinks that things are slowly getting better.

"The government are doing their best.  They have a lot of awareness campaigns to lecture these people.  And anything about issues of inciting xenophonbic crisis in this time around is a very big punishable offense," he said.

'Systematic Prejudice'

But Jason Chiwuzie Osuafor, the president of a Nigerian immigrants organization, says there is still progress to be made.  He says there is systematic prejudice here - by those who are supposed to protect the law.

'The main problem that comes often is one of police brutality.  Between last year and this year, we've registered 10 Nigerians killed by policemen in mysterious circumstances," said Osuafor.
An immigration official addresses Zimbabweans outside an immigration office in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, December 15, 2010, as they attempt to become legal.An immigration official addresses Zimbabweans outside an immigration office in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, December 15, 2010, as they attempt to become legal.
x
An immigration official addresses Zimbabweans outside an immigration office in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, December 15, 2010, as they attempt to become legal.
An immigration official addresses Zimbabweans outside an immigration office in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, December 15, 2010, as they attempt to become legal.

Most African immigrants in South Africa arrived after the end of apartheid, in the 1990s.  Most of them came to find a job, or to flee their war-torn countries.  Today, about five million immigrants live in South Africa.

Many thought they would find acceptance and understanding in a country which had overcome legalized brutal racial discrimination.  But Aurelia Segatti, researcher at the Center for Migration and Society in Johannesburg, says hostility is not that surprising in a country with South Africa's legacy.

"We have to realize that it's a country that has gone through extremely difficult times, and socio-economical challenges are still there," said Segatti. "Economical disparities have increased since 1990.  For the poorest part of the population, the foreigners, who happen to be African, is the perfect scapegoat to blame for an ever-growing socio-economical frustration."

Seeking a better life

In bustling Yeoville - the so-called immigrants neighborhood of Johannesburg - Congolese, Ivorians, Zimbabweans and Nigerians occupy many of the homes.  In fact, immigrants from more than 30 African countries live together.

In his office off the main street, Marc Gbaffou prepares for his meeting with the minister of home affairs.  Gbaffou is the president of the African Diaspora Forum, a platform created in 2008 after the xenophobic attacks.

"In the past, we were working as isolated communities," he said.  "So for instance, one community felt that they have to speak to government, that was very difficult for us.  So we said we have to create a platform which is a migrants' platform, and when we speak on one voice for our common issue."

The African Diaspora Forum organizes the annual commemoration of the xenophobic attacks, and coordinates action by representatives of different communities of immigrants. And it seems to work, according to Gbaffou.

"With South Africans, with some leaders, we made good improvement.  Because at least, most of the projects which are happening in the community, leaders let us know about it, and want us to be part of the project.  So there are good progress," he said.

In the aftermath of the 2008 attacks, hundreds were arrested and more than 100 convicted for xenophobic violence.  But the prejudice and many of the causes for the violence remain.

Despite this, and the difficulty of the immigration process, South Africa remains the top destination for Africans looking for a better life.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid