Violence targets immigrants in South Africa

South Africa | Angry residents burn the homes and businesses of foreigners
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 2/22/17, 10:45 am

Multiple attacks on the homes and businesses of immigrants in South Africa have raised fears of widespread violence. The government has warned that inflammatory comments on social media directed at immigrants could escalate into bloodshed.

“There is no place in our constitutional democracy for citizens or foreign nationals to take the law into their own hands and incite violence,” security spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said. “Communities and individuals who feel threatened should follow lawful channels to express their concerns.”

Several South African neighborhoods have witnessed resurging xenophobic attacks in recent days. Police officials said vandals burned and looted at least 20 shops and homes belonging to immigrants in the Pretoria West community. Witnesses said the homes belonged to Nigerians, while Somali and Pakistani immigrants owned most of the destroyed businesses. South Africa’s government said vandals targeted several immigrants’ shops and properties in three other towns this month.

South Africans have complained immigrants steal their jobs and commit crimes as the country faces an economic crisis and a high level of unemployment. Police spokeswoman Mathapelo Peters told Reuters the police received allegations the immigrants used the destroyed shops for drug dealing. Peters said security officials would begin a formal investigation once the shop owners came forward.

Ebrahim Deen with South Africa’s Afro Middle East Center, said the majority of the immigrants in South Africa open up their own shops for business. Witnesses reported that some police officials stood by as the vandals destroyed property, Deen said. He called on the government to ensure better policing.

Paul Binda, a representative from the Democratic Republic of Congo’s immigrant community, told Voice of America the Congolese residents in the country are starting to lose hope. Binda said a Congolese friend in Pretoria West told him some attackers threw him out of his car and others cleared out his flat.

“To be punished or to be beaten up for what we didn’t do makes you regret why you first came into this country,” he said.

Emeka Ezinteje, spokesman of the Nigerian Union South Africa, told Al-Jazeera the immigrant community has faced about 10 separate late-night attacks in recent days. Ezinteje said some of the union’s members reported they received calls asking for payments to protect their homes and businesses.

“Our people and other foreigners are apparently living in fear of the unknown,” he said.

A group called Mamelodi Concerned Residents said it would stage a protest against “illegal immigrants” Friday. In a publicity flier, the group questioned why South Africa gives asylum status and work to immigrants when many of the country’s citizens are not working. The group also accused immigrants of propagating drugs and prostitution.

In 2015, the United Nations estimated some 3 million immigrants lived in South Africa. A similar wave of attacks in 2015 killed about six immigrants and chased others into hiding.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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