On October 3, 2019, South African Embassy in Washington DC warmly welcomed a delegation from Advocacy Network for Africa (AdNA) comprising of civil society organizations in the Washington Metro Area with interest in Africa, to engage issues surrounding violence against foreigners in South Africa. The delegation, which was accompanied by members of the Missionaries of Africa in Washington DC, made it clear that they were at the embassy not to “throw stones” but as family members who are concerned about the repeated violence targeting mostly African nationals living in South Africa, its impact on the continent, the negative image it gives to the outside world and the damaging potential for South Africa if this continues.
The meeting which lasted about two hours featured insightful exchanges between the delegation and embassy officials. The delegation observing that this is the third time such attacks have occurred (2008, 2015 and 2019), emphasized the necessity for South African government to address the underlying factors that drive these attacks.
The delegation reiterated points listed in AdNA letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa namely:
1. An immediate and intentional engagement of the issues that fuel these attacks and build a country that is rooted in respect for human rights and the rule of law;
2. A recognition of the concerns of marginalized South Africans, improved job security and mechanisms to address the economic disparity;
3. Establishment of a security plan, with necessary operational mechanisms to ensure the safety of all foreign nationals including, but not limited to business men and women, professional workers, refugees and migrants;
4. Hold perpetrators of thee attacks and related crimes/violence accountable and
5. Compensate the victims of past and present attacks.
Embassy official noted that the characterization of South Africa as a xenophobic nation excludes millions of citizens in that country – over 99 percent who are good neighbors and do business with foreign nationals who live and work or are visiting South Africa. They noted too that some of the violence have been triggered by criminal activities by South Africans and foreign nationals, including trafficking in person and drug trafficking.
However, there is no denying that the recent and past violence against foreigners tarnishes the image of the country. It is a complex situation with its root in, among other things, South Africa’s apartheid past, social and economic inequalities and politicization of the immigration issues by some politicians for personal gains.
On a state visit to South Africa at the same time AdNA met with embassy officials, Nigerian President Muhammadu Burahi described the attacks as “unacceptable” and called for the “implementation of all the necessary measures to prevent the recurrence of such actions”
Acknowledging the role African countries played in ending apartheid regime, embassy officials echoed President Ramaphosa’s statement that South Africa is committed to creating conducive and safe environment for all and to setting up “Early warning mechanisms” to monitor the agitation within the population. They are equally committed to “upholding the rule of law and ensuring that all those involved in criminal activities, regardless of their nationality, are prosecuted.”
AdNA calls on leaders of the nations where migrants flock to South Africa to address the root causes of migration including insecurity, repression of their citizens, human rights violations, embezzlement of public funds, land grabbing by the elite, leading to job loss and dislocation of families, and lack of basic health and education infrastructures.