In South Africa, there’s a growing number of attacks on foreign nationals. Tuesday, the ruling ANC party issued a statement saying it “unequivocally condemns such xenophobic attacks.” It calls on South Africans to take what it calls a firm stand against the attacks and to “treat them as hate crimes.”
VOA reporter Delia Robertson is following the story. From Johannesburg, she spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the frequency of attacks.
“Every now and again there are attacks on foreigners, whether it’s in areas around Johannesburg or Cape Town or sort of in the southeast of the country. I suppose you have several serious incidents each year. They do, however, seem to be increasing,” she says.
Asked why, Robertson says, “South Africa has recently gone through a period of increased tensions I think for a number of reasons, not least because of rising food prices, of rising gasoline prices and so on. And so, I think that that does add to the daily tension in people’s lives. Other than that, I don’t think anybody knows why there would be more attacks now than there were say a couple of years ago.”
Foreign nationals include those in the country legally and illegally. “You have very high numbers of illegal immigrants in South Africa, or I suppose the politically correct term these days is undocumented immigrants. But people who have entered the country without the appropriate visa or have entered with a legal visa, but then not left the country at the time they should have. Just from Zimbabwe alone, there are reports that there may be as many as three million illegal Zimbabweans in South Africa. And there are many Africans living in South Africa at the moment from all parts of the continent.”
Often in the United States when the economy turns bad, there are a number of political commentators and even politicians who blame illegal immigrants for some of the economic woes. Is it the same in South Africa? Robertson says, “No, not really. I think in general politicians in this country frown upon xenophobia. Perhaps it happens more at a local level, where you don’t get the kind of media spotlight being shown in those areas. But certainly in the major towns and on a national level you don’t get that kind of xenophobic comment from politicians in the country. On the contrary, politicians in this country tend to urge South Africans to welcome visitors from other parts of the world…especially given the history of this country.”
The ANC is calling on “all state institutions and security agencies to apply the country’s immigration laws in a consistent and even-handed manner, with due regard for the country’s constitution and its international commitments.” Robertson says this is not a call for a strict enforcement of immigration laws. “I think that there’s a perception in the immigrant communities…that they are targeted by the security services in this country, by the police in particular, unfairly. So I think that is what the ANC is talking about,” she says.
Robertson estimates more than 100 people may have been injured so far this year in attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa, with about a half dozen people killed.