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Threats Of Post-World Cup Xenophobia Another Test For SA’s Government

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The 2010 Fifa World Cup has resulted in an unprecedented number of foreign nationals visiting South Africa. During the event many articles in the international media praised the country for the warm welcome they gave soccer fans from around the world. Yet, amid the euphoria of hosting Africa's first World Cup, persistent rumours have surfaced of more xenophobic violence after the event.


African foreign migrants living in South Africa have been gripped by unease and many, like those from Mamelodi, outside Pretoria, have started leaving their homes in the townships to rent accommodation in the city for fear of attacks against them. In May, two years after the start of the 2008 attacks which left 62 dead killed and an estimated150 000 displaced, a consortium of leading migration organisations said that it had received reports by foreign nationals that they were being threatened with violence after the tournament.

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"These threats are coming from many different people: neighbours, colleagues, taxi drivers, passersby, but also from nurses, social workers and police officers," said the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (Cormsa), whose members include Amnesty International, the South African Red Cross Society and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. "Some of those making the threats believe that they have the support of senior political leaders," it said.


There is also apparently a strong sense among migrants themselves that xenophobic attacks would break out after the World Cup, as cautioned by academics last month. Speaking at the release of a Gauteng City Region Observatory (GCRO) survey on the quality of life in the province, GCRO Executive Director Prof. David Everatt said, "It should be holding up a red flag for us," ..."If the attitudes of xenophobia remain ... we have a problem."

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Despite these early warnings however, some government representatives deny any prospect of xenophobic riots. On 18 June, Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said that South Africa is not a "Banana Republic" and residents will not be allowed to get away with xenophobic attacks on foreigners. "The issue of xenophobic attacks after the World Cup has no foundation except to influence the vulnerable within our society to commit crime. We have confidence in both the police and our people," he said. "The ministry of police is unimpressed by the continued engraving of fear in the hearts and minds of our people, including our fellow African brothers and sisters, by the faceless people within our midst," he said in response to concerns that xenophobic violence would take place.


Mbalula blamed the warnings of xenophobic attacks on nameless "prophets of doom" who were motivated by diverting attention away from the ability of the government to host a safe and successful soccer event. Mbalula's statement contradicts the government's earlier statement announcing the re-establishment of the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) to focus on incidents and threats of attacks on foreign nationals. Briefing the media following the cabinet`s regular fortnightly meeting on 3 June, SA government spokesperson Themba Maseko announced that the IMC would be convened by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and include the ministers of government departments such as home affairs, social development, state security, basic education, co-operative governance and traditional affairs,arts and culture, and international relations and co-operation. The IMC would liaise with civil society structures to ensure that a countrywide approach was adopted to prevent violence against anyone.


South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) chairperson Lawrence Mushwana said on 29 June, that he hoped that the rumours of a resurgence of xenophobic violence after the World Cup were "just a threat". He said that a reaction unit had been assembled to respond to any attack on foreigners. 
"We are more ready.There will be an effort much better than 2008," he said during the signing of a project aimed at dealing with discrimination and xenophobia in Johannesburg. 
The SAHRC and the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights signed an agreement to assist the SAHRC to follow up on recommendations that it made after the 2008 xenophobic attacks.


A report by the Human Sciences Research Council identified three broad causes for the xenophobic violence. These were: (1) relative deprivation, specifically intense competition for jobs, commodities and housing; (2) group processes, including psychological categorisation processes that are nationalistic rather than superordinate and South African exceptionalism, or a feeling of superiority in relation to other Africans; and (3) an exclusive citizenship, or a form of nationalism that excludes others.


A subsequent report commissioned by the International Organisation for Migration titled, ‘Towards Tolerance, Law, and Dignity:Addressing Violence against Foreign Nationals in South Africa', found that poor service delivery and an influx of foreigners may have played a contributing role, but also blamed township politics for the attacks. It found that community leadership was potentially lucrative for unemployed people, and that such leaders organised the attacks. Local leadership could be illegitimate and often violent when emerging from either a political vacuum or fierce competition,the report said. Such leaders enhanced their authority by reinforcing resentment towards foreigners.


There is no doubt that such attacks represent a serious threat to the rights and safety of African foreign nationals living in South Africa. The continued threat of attacks on migrants raises the question of whether any lessons have been learned from the appalling events of the recent past. What seems clear is that while reactive measures may have improved, little has changed in terms of the underlying social and economic risk factors that have driven such attacks. The prevention of such attacks in the future seems unlikely, unless measures are taken to address these. It is on this level, as with South Africa's broader crime problem, where it is critical that inroads be made and it is this that has eluded the country's government thus far.


As the World Cup comes to an end and praise for the South Africa's management of the event continues, fears about what happens after the event remain, and a further test for this government looms.


Written by: Emmanuel Nibishaka, Intern, Security Sector Governance Programme, ISS Pretoria

 

 

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