Violence against immigrants from other countries, such as Somalia, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, escalated in Pretoria and Johannesburg at the end of last week. According to several media outlets groups of armed and violent protesters emerged on a xenophobic march in Pretoria on Friday. The situation between these groups and immigrants escalated quickly and the police had to use rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons in order to stop people fighting each other with sticks, bricks and knives. According to the BBC there were more than 100 arrests. Protesters, mainly belonging to the group called Mamelodi Concerned Residents, argue that foreigners from countries like Somalia and Nigeria take their jobs and are highly criminal. In a country in which unemployment is above 25% frustration and anger has been leading to xenophobia for a while now. Amongst others, protesters accuse Nigerians living in South Africa of dealing with drugs and being involved in human trafficking. According to The Associated Press they also handed in a petition to the foreign ministry, in which they demanded the government teach foreigners to speak properly.
Violent groups also raided Somali and Bangladeshi shops, both in Pretoria and Johannesburg. These attacks have left many immigrants feeling panicky and concerned. Many frustrated shop owners have lost everything and now face an uncertain future.
President Jacob Zuma spoke out clearly against violence against immigrants in South Africa. He was quoted saying that “it is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers. Let us isolate those who commit such crimes and work with the government to have them arrested, without stereotyping and causing harm to innocent people.“ In 2016 statistics showed that there were 1.6 million foreign-born people living in South Africa. The number had actually declined since 2011, when more than 2 million foreigners were living in the country. With regard to the massive outcry in European and American media outlets, Zuma stated that “the number of foreigners in South Africa are far more than the numbers that Europe is fighting about… but nobody calls them xenophobic.“ According to Zuma South Africa does not have a general problem with racism. Let’s hope that the tense situation will calm down soon and the government will find solutions to improve employment amongst its people so that all inhabitants of the rainbow nation can live without fear again.