Xenophobia in South Africa

What is Xenophobia?

Xenophobia is the fear of everything strange and foreign. It is also used to describe the resentment and dislike towards foreign people. It derives from the Greek: xenos (stranger, foreigner) and phobos (fear).

The following article was updated on Januray 30, 2010.

View of a Cape Town township near Cape Town Airport

In May 2008 the violent xenophobic attacks on African expatriates living in townships across the country were reported in the South Africa news worldwide.

These attacks are condemned by the South African people. There was also a huge outcry in many townships to condemn this most criminal behavior.

In the aftermath of the clashes between disadvantaged and poor South Africans and foreign immigrants in the townships across South Africa, the government maintains that the violence is under control, however there are still uprisings in some poorer areas.

There were reports of xenophobic attacts on foreign expats mainly of African origin living in townships in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, Freestate, Northern Cape and Western Cape.

Mainly the influx of Zimbabweans who fled the dire conditions in their homecountry were blamed for the misery in the townships. Also other African immigrants, mainly Nigerians, Somalis, Congolese, Ethiopians, Malawians and Mozambicans were affected by the violence.

In 2008 around 20,000 foreign immigrants sought safe shelters in the Western Cape. They were housed then in more than 100 ad-hoc shelters in community centers, churches and the city’s six safe zones most of the immigrants however have been reintegrated in their communities.

Violent outbreaks against foreigners are nothing new unfortunately, as the high numbers of in South Africa killed Somalis show. During the last 11 years 471 Somalis died in xenophobic attacks here. Numerous other foreign nationals have been attacked, assaulted or murdered.

The causes of these outbreaks are mainly due to the poor conditions, the high crime and violence rates in the townships and the inadequate support of the government to deal with the high numbers of immigrants in South Africa, which unofficially are up to 6 million people.

Situation of immigrants living in South Africa in 2010

The 2009 crime statistics speak about 3-6 million undocumented immigrants in South Africa.

Many volonteers from overseas and many charities have to be praised for their efforts to spead calm among the different nationality groups and for their community work teaching tolerance, so foreigners are more accepted by the locals and are returning into the communities to live peacefully together within the South African communities.

The South African government in the meantime also changed their policy towards Zimbabwean migrant workers. Home Affairs changed the visa requirements for foreigners so that Zimbabweans are now allowed to live and work in South Africa for 12 months without needing a visa and so coming back here is not illegal anymore.

Reports from NGOs working in South Africa as well as recent UN Reports claim that the South African Government is not doing enough to prevent a further crisis from happening. But steps in the right direction are made. The UN Refugee Agency is currently involved in South Africa with a two-year plan to help the country to get rid of xenophobia. For more information read the UN News .

Poor service delivery, lack of efficient law enforcement and basic structures are blamed for the Xenophobia attacks.

During the last months many people protest in these shanty towns against poor service delivery by the government. Therefore you will often find roads blocks hindering access to the townships and surrounding industrial areas, creating inconvenience for everybody.

Although the xenophobic violence seems to have been turned into often violent protests against the South African government, stone throwings seem to happen more often, so please take caution and avoid the townships when not accompanied by a trusted local guide.

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