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The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the South African Council of Churches in Gauteng have embarked on anti-xenophobia seminars in Gauteng. The first seminars were held in March however they were halted before the elections due to threats of violence.They are now continuing and six seminars were held in Yeoville and Marshalltown in Johannesburg, Molapo, Dobsonville and Snake Park in Soweto and Thokoza. The delegates are community members and community leaders. The locations were selected because of past xenophobia attacks or underlying tones of xenophobia sentiments.
Reflections from locals about xenophobia
The views of delegates are similar in many ways though the seminars are held in diverse locations. When asked why the locals do not want foreign nationals in their townships their answers are mostly:
- Human Trafficking: they accuse some foreign nationals of being involved in human trafficking by luring young girls into prostitution,
- Crime: they accuse some foreign nationals of being involved in criminal activities including operating drug syndicates,
- Taking away their jobs: delegates claim that a lot of businesses in South Africa prefer to employ foreigner nationals as compared to locals,
- Informal trading: they accuse the foreign nationals of operating small businesses in the townships and taking business opportunities from locals,
- They accuse foreign nationals of selling expired goods in their shops,
- Tax evasion: they further accuse them of operating businesses but not paying tax.
Reflections from foreign nationals about xenophobia
According to the foreign nationals who attended the seminars, locals hate them and they accuse them of peddling drugs and being involved in human trafficking without any evidence to substantiate their claims. They further state that they came to South Africa for various reasons, others are running away from war in their countries and some are in South Africa in search of a better life. They refute the claim that they take away South Africans jobs instead most of them are self-employed.
Is it xenophobia or criminality?
Is it xenophobia or criminality when shops owned by foreign nationals are looted? There have been many instances where locals complain that foreign nationals sell expired goods in their stores. The irony is that the complainants chase the owners away and loot the goods and take them home. If indeed the goods are expired then why do they consume them? Its pure criminality when foreign nationals are attached and their belongings are taken. Unfortunately, crime is rampant in South Africa even locals are at the mercy of criminals. At the seminar in Molapo, locals lamented the rate burglaries which take place during the weekday when people are at work.
Lack of service delivery
South Africa is known as the protest capital of the world. This is as a result of the many protests against lack of service delivery as well as labour related strikes. Locals protest against lack of basic services like clean water, lack of housing, access to electricity, lack of functioning health care facilities etc. However, at times when these protests occur foreign nationals are attacked. The locals say they are frustrated because government does not properly guard the borders to ensure that only people with proper documentation are allowed in South Africa. Lately, in Alexandra Township there was discontentment from locals that some foreign nationals own the ‘RDP’ houses these are houses which were built by the state for low income earners. Only South African citizens are eligible to own the RDP houses. They are required to produce an identity document amongst other documentation when applying for ‘RDP’ houses. In some cases, locals rent out their houses to foreign nationals or they sell their houses to them. It is disingenuous when foreign nationals are attacked without evidence that they obtained the houses illegally.
Youth unemployment crisis
According to Trading Economics youth unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 55.20 percent in the first quarter of 2019 from 54.70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018. The youths, both graduates and those without formal education are struggling to get employment. As a result of the frustration of being unemployed, some youths direct their anger at foreign nationals. They see them coming to South Africa with nothing and yet they are able to start small businesses and make a living for themselves and their families.
The attack of foreign nationals is deplorable. All concerned stakeholders must come together to find meaningful solutions to deal with xenophobia and to create social cohesion. The government, together with the private sector, ought to find ways of creating employment opportunities. South Africans are struggling to make ends meet especially the poor. In May 2019, the inflation rate in SA was 4.5%. It has become clear that the scourge of xenophobia is increased by the fight for resources.