Africans and other foreign nationals in South Africa suffer “routine” harassment and lethal violence by locals and government authorities, a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said. In the 64-page report, HRW said foreigners are scapegoated and blamed for economic insecurity, crimes, and government failures to deliver services.
Also, the report said foreigners have been targets of nationwide protests and shutdowns characterized by mob violence, looting, and torching of their businesses.
“Non-South African nationals have suffered wave after wave of xenophobic violence and live in constant fear of being targeted solely for not being South African,” said Kristi Ueda, Africa division fellow at HRW and author of the report.
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“The South African government should hold those responsible accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Impunity only emboldens others and perpetuates xenophobia.”
This was despite the adoption of the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance by the South African government.
The National Action Plan provides a framework to address many of the problems non-nationals face, but it seems to have had very little impact on the lives of Asian and African foreigners living in the country, HRW found. The HRW report relayed the testimonies of African and Asian nationals who faced xenophobic attacks.
A Congolese shop owner told the group that rioters broke into his shop in Johannesburg in 2019. “I am not feeling happy even though I am alive. I am trying not to be so angry, but I am so angry,” he told the group.
Also, a Bangladeshi shop owner told HRW that mobs ransacked his businesses during a bout of xenophobic violence last year. According to him, he was forced to stand guard over his shops without sleep for three days.
A grade-10 student in a public school in Cape Town was severely beaten for being elected class monitor. She spent nine days in the hospital because of her injuries.
Most foreigners interviewed by HRW said despite “routine” harassment and violence they face in South Africa, they want to stay and contribute to the country and its economy.
However, they face challenges in acquiring and renewing documentation to maintain a legal status to remain in South Africa. This in turn causes difficulties in accessing education, healthcare, and other basic services, the report said.
The report further stated that such challenges are a pivotal barrier to accessing justice. In 2008, xenophobic attacks left 62 people dead and in 2015, similar unrest killed seven. Also, in 2019, xenophobic attacks led to the murder of 12 people.
South Africa is one of the most preferred destinations of economic migrants searching for better jobs. The country attracts migrants from South African countries such as Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and the continent including Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria and South Asia.
South Africa’s 2011 population census notes that the country hosts some 2.2 million foreigners, including political refugees, economic migrants and skilled expatriate workers.