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South African politicians should shoulder their responsibilities in the anti-migrant crisis 

Eromo Egbejule
By Eromo Egbejule
West Africa Editor of The Africa Report

Posted on Wednesday, 11 September 2019 17:53

Schoolchildren hold a placard in support of demonstrators during a march against xenophobia in downtown Johannesburg, April 23, 2015. A wave of anti-immigrant violence has so far claimed seven lives in trouble spots in Durban and Johannesburg, to where the government announced the deployment of defence forces on Tuesday. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

South African politicians must take some of the blame for a series of violent attacks on African migrants.

This week, Nigeria is making plans to send around 600 citizens back home for their protection.

While many in the international community call it ‘xenophobia’, local politicians seem to prefer the term ‘criminality’.

Their rhetoric around undocumented migrants leading to lawlessness in South Africa fuels the anger expressed by locals.

  • It reads as a tacit endorsement, or an indirect defence, of the onslaught faced by African migrants.

Days after the crisis began, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a statement, saying the attacks were totally unacceptable and “South Africa is home to all”. The leader of the opposition party – Economic Freedom Fighters – Julius Malema called for an end to the xenophobic attacks.

  • “This behaviour, in fact, is like shooting ourselves in the foot because many people who help us from other countries will [no longer] help us,” lamented Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party, moments before his speech was interrupted by rioters in Johannesburg last Sunday.

However, some senior members of the governing party – The African National Congress (ANC) – were not singing from the same hymnbook.

  • Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor told a local broadcaster that she believes “Nigerian nationals are involved in human trafficking and other abusive practices”.
  • Later, at a meeting with African diplomats, Minister Pandor blamed the wave of attacks on “Afrophobia”. 
  • Former President Thabo Mbeki has said that “there is no South African that goes around chasing Nigerians because they are Nigerians….It is incorrect to read that there’s been an offensive against Nigerians in South Africa, that is not true”.

Other South African politicians seem to be using the riots to mask their own failings in government, while accumulating fresh political capital.

  • City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba from the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has been a repeat offender. His party campaigned for the 2019 elections using the slogan “All South Africans First”.

The leaders of many African countries are expressing their outrage. Some have even taken to Twitter to complain.

As Nigeria recalled its ambassador from Pretoria, Zambia and Madagascar cancelled friendly football matches in South Africa. Nigerian musicians, Tiwa Savage and Burna Boy, both cancelled their upcoming concerts.

BOTTOM LINE: South Africa, one of the continent’s most advanced economies is battling poverty, unemployment, and inequality. Underperforming politicians keen to retain power have latched onto the situation, offering populist statements and reductive rhetoric to avoid condemning the actions of those who could give them votes.

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