….as migrants’ body calls for decisive action
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa last week spoke strongly against Xenophobia in the country, urging South Africans to stop the harassment and attacks on foreign nationals.
“As a country founded on tolerance, respect for diversity and non-discrimination, we must never allow ourselves to turn against people who come from beyond our borders. Like those countries that gave us shelter during the dark times of apartheid, we must be a welcoming country, particularly of refugees fleeing persecution elsewhere,” Ramaphosa told a gathering at an event to celebrate Human Rights Day last week.
Ramaphosa, however, made it clear that foreigners who wanted to live in that country should be documented, noting South African employers who were employing undocumented foreigners were fuelling tensions.
“I want to take this opportunity to address employers in this country, including in hospitality, agriculture, transport and other labour intensive sectors. Our country has one of the highest rates of unemployment. When employers knowingly hire undocumented foreign workers, they are breaking the law.
They are also contributing towards social tensions between our citizens and foreign nationals who are living here or have taken refuge here,” he said.
Coming after South Africans mainly in Pretoria and Johannesburg launched operation Dudula, many would have hoped that the president’s speech would help calm things down a little and halt attacks on foreigners, mostly Zimbabweans.
An estimated 2 million Zimbabweans, both documented and undocumented, are said to be living and working in the Southern African country.
Many crossed into South Africa illegally in the early 2000’s after US sanctions took their toll on the country’s economy, forcing most companies to close shop.
However, there have been tensions between foreigners and South Africans, who claim that foreigners have been taking their jobs, accusing employers of hiring undocumented immigrants in order to cut on their operational costs.
There have been several episodes of xenophobic attacks with dozens of foreigners killed or maimed in the process while others had their properties destroyed.
And the calls by Ramaphosa for tolerance must have come as a big sigh of relief for the many foreigners in the country who have been living in fear over the past few years.
But an organisation representing foreigners in South Africa, African Diaspora Global Network (ADGN) believes South African authorities need to go beyond “talk- shows” and start taking deliberate steps to ensure perpetrators of xenophobic attacks are brought to book and made to pay for their crimes.
“What President Cyril Ramaphosa said on the 21st of March speaking against attacks on foreign nationals is not going to deter people from continuing to attack migrants. What is going to deter people is prosecution of people that are attacking migrants and destroying property that belongs to migrants. Once they are prosecuted and sent to jail including their organisers, it’s only at that stage when we will see a decline in activities,” said ADGN Chief Executive Officer, Vusumuzi Sibanda
Here merely talking did not outlaw what would have been done, unless the speech by President Ramaphosa encouraged law enforcement agents in the country to start taking the issue seriously by acknowledging that it was an offence to attack migrants.
“Unless there is a sanction that is put against those activities, that (attacks on migrants) is not likely to change. We have seen for a very long time migrants being killed and we have had this talk show about “please don’t do this”; it has been ongoing and it does not deter anyone because there is no sanctions against them,” he said.
Sibanda said ADGN was conscietising migrants about their rights and encouraging those that would have been attacked to report to them so they could prefer charges.
“We are also engaging the various stakeholders like the police and once we know of areas where such attacks have broken out we speak to the police commissioner at national and provincial level; to station commanders to make sure the police are sent there promptly to protect the migrants, including Zimbabweans,” he said.
He said there were a lot of cases that had happened since the beginning of xenophobic attacks and there were court cases where people sought to stop the current wave of attacks, code named Dudula, from taking its route.
However, he said it was unfortunate that most of the cases were thrown out as the perpetrators hid behind their purported right to strike.
“We however, have got a case now that is on-going that deals with the destruction and looting of property which is a new case that has been taken to court but when it comes to criminal cases we haven’t had much this far.
“You know that there were people that got injured in Robertson but that was not really Dudula but clashes between Zimbabweans and Lesotho citizens so that is a different one. But that which relates to Dudula it was only an alert where we had such cases and of course the police were called in and about six people were arrested from the Dudula group,” he said.
The Dudula movement claims it wants to reclaim jobs and RDP houses it says were illegally taken from South Africans by foreigners and has been undertaking door to door campaigns aimed at kicking out all foreign nationals.
Hundreds of Zimbabweans living in South Africa have been harassed, displaced, injured and some killed in violent xenophobic attacks in the neighbouring country over the past few years.