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South Africa – savage truth of Marikana

Mail and Guardian


The savage truth behind the Marikana massacre

22 MAY 2015 00:00 NICK DAVIES


Nick Davies uncovers the story of “the man in the green blanket”, who died trying to broker peace, and reveals the complicity of the powers that be.

 Mambush Noki (green blanket) and Xolani Ndzuzu (centre) speak to the police with the striking Lonmin miners gathered in the background. (Greg Marinovich, The Stand)

On August 16 2012, South African police opened fire on a large crowd of men who had been on strike at a platinum mine at Marikana in North West Province. They shot down 112 of them, killing 34. In any country, this would have been a traumatic moment. For South Africa, it was a special kind of nightmare, because it revived images of massacres by the state in the old apartheid era, with one brutal difference – this time it was predominantly black police officers, with black senior officers working for black politicians, who were doing the shooting.

In response, President Jacob Zuma appointed a commission of inquiry, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, which sat in public for a total of 293 days, hearing evidence from miners, their bosses and the police, and reviewing video, audio and paper records of the shooting and of the seven-day strike that preceded it.

At the end of March this year, the commission delivered its report to Zuma, who so far has failed to publish its conclusions. Those who may find themselves accused of colluding in the police action include not only senior figures from the ANC but also Lonmin, the British company that owns the Marikana mine.

In the evidence before the Farlam inquiry, one particular miner came to the fore. In videos of marches and meetings during the strike, this was largely because he wore a bright green blanket around his shoulders. Beyond that, it was because, during those seven days of conflict, he came from nowhere as the leader, making passionate speeches through a loud-hailer, negotiating with police and standing in the frontline as the shooting broke out. He died that afternoon, with 14 bullets in his face and neck and legs.

The name of the man in the green blanket was Mgcineni Noki. He was aged 30, and known to his family and friends as Mambush. This is his story. It may also stand as part of the story of what has happened in South Africa since apartheid was voted into the dustbin of history 21 years ago.

Mambush – a rock-drill operator with no official rank – emerged from the mass of black workers as a rebel leader demanding justice, while some of those who once spearheaded the fight against repression acted as a shield protecting privilege, exploitation and extreme violence. It is a story about power changing hands and changing colour but failing, finally, to change the lives of those in whose name that power is held.


Cathedral of commerce

The Lonmin smelter stands like a cathedral of commerce over a bleak landscape, its chimney reaching for heaven, its conveyor belt shuffling a fortune in unrefined platinum. The miners live in its shadow. Their homes are one-roomed shacks. Some of them are built out of breeze blocks; most are patchworks of rusting corrugated iron tacked on to frames of timber torn from local trees. The shacks huddle together in groups of several hundred. There are no roads, only dirt tracks that turn greasy in the rain. A few chickens peck in the mud. Goats stroll by.

As far as the eye can see, pylons march across the landscape like robot soldiers, bringing electricity to the mines, but most of the shacks have no power – though some steal it on cables that sag among the washing lines. The mines have water, too, to wash the ore. But not the shacks: some of the men share a communal tap, many of which have been broken for months; some drink straight from milky streams that run nearby.

In one of the shacks lives Mbulelo Noki, a lean, fit man in blue jeans and a Levi’s shirt, now aged 35. He has a double bed, neatly made; a small table with a plastic cloth; a metal wardrobe with the torn remains of an old ANC sticker on the door. Mbulelo is Mambush’s cousin – their fathers were brothers. Mbulelo and Mambush grew up together in a tiny village called Thwalikhulu, high on the rim of a pale green valley in the Eastern Cape.

The image of the ‘man in the green blanket’ will always be associated with the Marikana tragedy. This graffiti is by Tokolos Stencil. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The two boys were close. Mambush’s father died before he was born, and so Mbulelo’s father helped the bereaved family to survive. As they reached adolescence, the cousins went together into the hills to build a hut and to go through the rituals and circumcision that marked their graduation to manhood. Later they worked together as rock-drill operators, battering platinum ore out of the earth, 5km below ground.

Mbulelo recalled that Mambush nearly missed the strike. The two of them were there as it was launched, on Thursday August 9 2012, when hundreds of rock-drill operators gathered on the parched grass of the Wonderkop football stadium, near the administrative buildings at the centre of the mine complex.

They had heard that the rock-drill operators at the Impala Platinum mine, in nearby Rustenburg, had emerged from a long and sometimes violent strike with new pay rates, whereas they remained on R4 000 to R5 000 a month, and they were angry. They demanded R12 500 and agreed they would not turn up for work the next day.

On the Friday morning, the two cousins got a message that their uncle – the younger brother to their fathers – had died of tuberculosis at the Impala mine. On the second day of the strike, they set off to retrieve his body, so they missed the first signs of violence.

It happened on the Friday evening. Small groups of strikers had gone to two of the shafts where some men were still working. The strikers toyi-toyied, urging them to join them. Some waved sticks. Lonmin security men asked police who were watching to disperse the strikers. The police reportedly said the strikers were not causing any trouble. Lonmin security then opened fire with rubber bullets, firing more than 40 rounds at the strikers. Two were seriously injured and hospitalised.

Much later, the Lonmin logbook that contained a record of this event was submitted to the Farlam inquiry – with all reference to the shooting deleted. Another copy was later discovered in police archives, containing detailed references to the shooting. A Lonmin manager later admitted making the deletions.

The previous evening, Barnard Mokwena, then Lonmin’s executive vice-president, had written an internal memo, later disclosed to the Farlam inquiry, advising that the company should not tolerate demands that were “outside the collective bargaining structure”. The strikers were rejecting their own union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), accusing it of supporting the bosses. As the union was not involved, the company could choose not to recognise the strike and not to negotiate. Mokwena urged that, instead of talking, the company should sack the strikers and call in the police to deal with them.

By Friday night, Mbulelo and Mambush were back from Impala and arguing about their next move. Mbulelo wanted to leave to arrange their uncle’s funeral; Mambush was determined to join the strike. That night, Mambush called his wife, Veronica, who was living with their two-year-old daughter, Asive, in Carletonville. This was the town where he had first worked as a miner, in 2004.

In 2008, he injured his shoulder in a rock fall and went to the medical station where Veronica was an administrative assistant. They started a relationship that continued even though Mambush soon moved to Marikana, where the pay was better and the rock was harder and safer to mine than in Carletonville.

Veronica had not known Mambush to get involved in a strike before, though she knew that he was angry with the NUM. Sitting on the old plastic chairs under the tree at the back of her house, he had often talked to her and her father, Ephraim, about how the NUM shop stewards were taken out of the mine and given pay rises, cars and cellphones by the company, and how very soon they stopped speaking up for the people who had elected them.

“The NUM is a sellout,” she remembered him saying. She also recalled one time when she was visiting him in Marikana, when he disappeared for an hour to register with a new breakaway union – the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).


Striking miners on the march at Marikana. (Paul Botes, M&G)

He had talked often about struggling to get by on R5 000 a month. He was sending most of it back to his family in the Eastern Cape, then paying for rent on his shack and food for himself. Often he would have to borrow to get through to the end of the month, sometimes from friends, sometimes from microlenders who specialise in payday loans at interest rates as high as 50% a month. Veronica had told him not to worry about sending money to her and Asive. She had a brick-built house, and with a college education she was earning enough to get by. “Let’s deal with other issues,” she told him. “I will take care of the baby.”

On the Friday night, he told her the strikers had to hold out. “The money is so little. It’s a must.” Veronica said that there was no way they would get the raise they were demanding, but she was not worried about him. Not just then. Over the following three days, though, the strike tumbled into a vortex of violence.

The koppie

On the morning of Saturday August 11, the strikers gathered in the football stadium and decided to march to the NUM office to protest that union officials had been touring the shacks, urging their members to go to work. Some of the strikers were carrying sticks and chanting aggressively.

The Farlam inquiry later heard that an NUM official gathered 30 union members in their office and gave them long panga knives and at least one gun. As the strikers approached, they heard gunfire and turned and scattered. NUM men pursued them. Some strikers were beaten and cut. Two fell with bullet wounds and were hospitalised. They survived, although at the time the others thought that they were dead.

The strikers abandoned the football stadium as a meeting place, because it was too close to the NUM office, and began to assemble on a koppie that stood on a wide plain of wasteland near one of the settlements. They collected cash and sent for a local sangoma in the hope that he could protect them from violence.

Then others joined the strike – not just the rock-drill operators who had started it, but also other Lonmin workers who were furious when they heard claims that the NUM was colluding with the company and had shot two of their comrades.

One of the new recruits was a friend of Mambush, a short, muscular man named Xolani Nzuza, then 27, who managed a football team in which Mambush played. Xolani had come to Marikana eight years earlier to finish college, aiming to become a social worker, but ran out of money. In 2006, he turned to the mine for income. Like Mambush, he had abandoned the NUM and joined Amcu. He was outraged by what was happening.

As he said later: “The people who should be negotiating for us were shooting at us.” Clever and articulate, Xolani was to become Mambush’s deputy at the head of the strike.

The violence escalated. The following day, Sunday August 12, a group of about 150 strikers marched from their new base on the koppie to the Lonmin office. There were scuffles. A striker threw a rock. A security guard fired a shotgun. The strikers massed forward. Some of the workers were now carrying pangas and used them with deadly force, slashing one guard from armpit to hip and hacking two more to death. One of the bodies was burned beyond recognition. Over the following 24 hours, two miners were killed when they tried to go to work in the hours of darkness.

Looking back at these events, the Farlam inquiry uncovered fault on all sides: the opening violence by Lonmin and the NUM, a complete absence of investigation of that violence by the South African Police Service (SAPS), barbaric behaviour by those strikers who had killed people who defied them, and an apparently callous decision by Lonmin.

As counsel to the Farlam probe put it: “It appears that it was possible for Lonmin to close the mine in order to protect its workers but that for business reasons it elected not to do so.”

Veronica says that Mambush was worried, telling her in phone calls: “This is so messy. This is getting too violent.” She pleaded with him to come and stay with her, but it was at this point that he decided to try to take the lead, to steer the strikers away from violence and back to their real aim, to negotiate a pay rise.

The shacks the workers occupy in the shadow of Lonmin. (Paul Botes, M&G)

By early the next afternoon, Monday August 13, he was at the head of some 200 strikers who marched from the koppie to picket at one of the mineshafts, where they had heard NUM members were still working. When Lonmin security barred their way and told them no one was working there, Mambush simply turned the march around and headed back towards the koppie, only to be stopped by the police who insisted that they must give up the sticks and pangas they were carrying.

Police video caught Mambush, with Xolani by his side, reasoning with them: “Please open the way for us. That’s the only thing we are asking for. We are not fighting with anyone. We just want to go to the koppie.” Soon, the strikers had agreed that if the police would protect them from attack by NUM members they would surrender their weapons when they reached the safety of the koppie. The senior police officer on the scene appeared willing to accept this until – as the video shows – he took a phone call.

At that moment, the provincial police chief, Lieutenant General Mirriam Zukiswa Mbombo (who this week announced her retirement from the SAPS), was sitting with Lonmin managers, monitoring the strikers on closed-circuit television. Mbombo had joined the police in 1980 and had risen quickly through the ranks after the end of apartheid. She set up a joint operations centre in Lonmin’s office, where, according to evidence at the Farlam inquiry, her officers were working not only with the company but also with NUM officials who were helping them to identify strike leaders.

When his phone call ended, the senior officer was no longer willing to compromise. He would count to 10, he said, by which time the strikers must surrender all their sticks and pangas. The strikers replied by chanting in isiXhosa: “No matter how big you make your balls, you are nothing.” And with that, crouching low to show they planned no attack, Mambush at the fore, they began walking slowly towards the koppie.

Police video shows that all was peaceful for several minutes – until some officers lobbed teargas and stun grenades at the strikers. Nobody has ever established whether they were ordered to do this. The result was disastrous. The miners started to run. Police ran after them. Two officers were surrounded by strikers and cut down and killed. Strikers stole their guns.

In the melee, some of the dead men’s colleagues then turned on their own senior officer, blaming him for the deaths and threatening to kill him. Other officers pursued the fleeing strikers. Several miners were shot. Three died. None of them was carrying a firearm. One was shot through the head from an assault rifle at a distance of more than 70m.

That evening, photographs of the hacked bodies of the two dead officers are said to have been circulated among police officers across the country.

When Mambush and the others straggled back to the koppie, his cousin Mbulelo was there. He heard Mambush speak to the crowd, reporting the deaths. That evening, Mbulelo called Veronica and begged her to come to Marikana. “I tried to talk to him, told him he must come back, but he doesn’t want to listen to me,” he said. “He will listen to you. Please come.”

But Veronica could not come. She was working and had no money to get to Marikana. All she could do was warn Mambush: “If police officers are killed, this is a very, very dangerous situation.”

She says she was thinking he would get arrested and put in jail but that he seemed to have something worse in mind, telling her: “If anything happens to me, take care of everything, take care of my family, because I trust you.”

“Why? Where are you going?”

“If anything happens to me, be strong for my baby.”

Power of life and death

When Nelson Mandela took power in 1994, he was backed by the tripartite alliance of the ANC, trade union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party. What Mambush and his wife did not know was that his act of rebellion spat in the face of that alliance. Worse, members of the alliance were in contact with two of the most senior police officers in the country, who wielded not only political power but the power of life and death. There was a lot of activity behind the scenes.

On Monday evening – at about the same time as Mambush was talking to his wife – Albert Jamieson, the chief commercial officer of Lonmin, was writing to the minister of mines, Susan Shabangu, urging her to “bring the full might of the state to bear on the situation”. Shabangu had previously been deputy minister of safety and security. Notoriously, in April 2008, she had addressed a meeting of police officers with advice about dealing with offenders: “You must kill the bastards if they threaten you or your community. You must not worry about the regulations. That is my responsibility.”

A family photo of Mambush Noki.

On Tuesday August 14, as hundreds of strikers on the koppie were being given rites to keep them safe by the sangoma’s two sons, Lonmin executives met secretly with the provincial police chief, Mbombo. The meeting was recorded. The transcript shows Lonmin’s Mokwena making the bold declaration that the company’s priority was not negotiating or settling the strike but “getting people arrested”. Even bolder, the transcript shows that Mbombo stepped outside the conventional role of a police chief, encouraging the company to take a hard line.

Central to Mbombo’s thinking was the role of Cyril Ramaphosa – founder of the NUM, one of the founders of Cosatu, a man who had helped to write the new South African Constitution, one of the great heroes of the anti-apartheid movement. Like other ANC leaders, he had also been one of the beneficiaries of black economic empowerment.

By August 2012, through his company, Shanduka, Ramaphosa was reckoned to be worth some $700-million, with shares and directorships in numerous companies –including Lonmin. The former NUM leader’s company now owned 9% of Lonmin’s shares and he sat on its board as a nonexecutive director. National police commissioner Riah Phiyega had given Mbombo a strong hint that she had been coming under pressure from Lonmin representatives.

Mbombo explained to the Lonmin executives that Ramaphosa had been directly involved in expelling Julius Malema from the ANC. Now leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Malema had turned up at the platinum mining strike at Impala a few months earlier, and had taken the credit for making peace. If Malema turned up and did the same at Marikana, she said, it would look as though he was in charge of the mines. The situation, she said, “has a serious political connotation that we need to take into account”.

And there was another alliance player to consider. Mbombo advised the Lonmin executives that they must be careful not to favour Amcu over the NUM. Mbombo was worried, she said, that by settling their strike, the Impala management had looked like allies of Amcu, and that generally trouble was erupting because the mining companies wanted to replace the NUM with the new union.

Mbombo was uncompromising. She would give the strikers a chance to surrender their weapons, she told Lonmin executives, and if that did not work: “Then it is blood.” She went on to qualify that, saying: “I do not want a situation where 20 people are dead. This is not what we are here for.” Lonmin’s Mokwena appeared not to understand this. During the meeting, he discussed the resources that were available to police, adding: “The ones that impress me – the snipers.”

But he and the police chief agreed on the central point. “We need to act such that we kill this thing,” said Mbombo.

“Immediately,” replied Mokwena.

The following day, Wednesday August 15, Ramaphosa was busy. From his position on the board of Lonmin he could have argued for negotiation, or even for a better deal for the workers. Instead – as a chain of emails released to the Farlam inquiry disclosed – he argued for the police to move in. In a message to fellow directors, he wrote: “The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such … There needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.”

Mambush and the 4 000 men who were then on the koppie knew nothing of this. Indeed, they were hopeful. They had formally elected Mambush, Xolani and three others to speak for them. From the safety of an armoured car, officers had agreed to talk, with Mambush standing on their front bumper and leaning towards the windscreen to make sure they understood the one thing they wanted – negotiation.

Mambush Noki was laid to rest at the family home in Mqanduli outside Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa came to the koppie with a welcome message: a Lonmin executive had told him that if they would go back to work, the company would address their grievances. This looked like an agreement to negotiate. The strikers, who had not all joined Amcu, said they needed time to think and agreed that Mathunjwa should return to them at 9am the following morning. Mathunjwa told a senior police officer: “I believe that tomorrow will be a day of joy for everyone.”

That evening, in Johannesburg, the police’s national management forum was made aware of the Amcu leader’s initiative and its potential for peace. Yet, as an official minute recorded: “After deliberations, the meeting endorsed the proposal to disarm the protesting masses and further indicated that additional resources must be made available.” Mbombo’s phone records show that immediately after this meeting, she called two Lonmin executives. If police were ending the strike, Lonmin no longer had any reason to negotiate.

At Marikana that Wednesday night, more than 550 police officers gathered. Their leaders ordered 4 000 rounds of live ammunition and requested mortuary vans with berths for 16 bodies.

Dead end

Early on the morning of Thursday August 16, Mathun­jwa met Lonmin executives to sort out details of his plan for the strikers’ return to work. Unaware of the moves behind the scenes, he ran into a dead end: the company now refused to discuss anything. On the koppie, the strikers saw 9am pass with no sign of the Amcu leader.

At 9.30am, Mbombo held a press conference at which she said nothing about Mathunjwa’s plan and declared simply: “We are ending the strike today.” At 10.30am, still waiting for the Amcu leader, Mambush saw police rolling out barbed wire in front of the koppie and angrily called on them to take it away. At noon, Mathunjwa came to the koppie, told the strikers he was getting nowhere and then went back to try again.

Mambush tried to raise morale, talking to the strikers through a megaphone, his left hand beating the air, urging them to stay until Lonmin agreed to negotiate: “We are tired of being captive. We will decide who will remain here – either the police or us. You cannot have two bulls in the same kraal.” At 1.30pm, senior police met to discuss their plan to “disarm and disperse” the strikers. Ten minutes later, the Anglican bishop of Pretoria, Johannes Seoka, unexpectedly came to the koppie. Xolani says they asked him to send food and to urge Lonmin to speak to them. Xolani took his mobile phone number.

In the Lonmin office, Mathunjwa tried to speak to Mbombo and was told she had left the building. He offered Lonmin a compromise deal on the strikers’ wage demand, but representatives of the company declined to meet him.

At 3.30pm the Amcu leader came back to the koppie and spoke to the strikers with passion, at one point dropping to his knees: “Comrades, the life of a black person in Africa is so cheap … They will kill us, they will finish us and then they will replace us and continue to pay wages that cannot change black people’s lives. That would mean we were defeated and that the capitalists will win. But we have another way. We urge you – brothers, sisters, men – I am kneeling down – coming to you as nothing. Let us stop this bloodshed that the NUM allowed this employer to let flow. We do not want bloodshed!”

As he finished, hundreds of striking miners began to walk down from the koppie. Xolani was at the top and had been watching what looked like preparations for war: firearms being handed out, police vans with racks of coiled barbed wire, three helicopters circling. He called Mambush, who was in a small group at the foot of the koppie, on his phone to warn him.

One of those alongside him was Mzoxolo Magidiwana, known as Mzo, a burly locomotive driver aged 24. He knew Mambush from village football games in the Eastern Cape. He said that Mambush decided to lead the strikers away, saying: “Don’t run. We haven’t done anything wrong.”

Noki’s brother Mbulelo has a moment alone with the coffin before the burial. (Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters)

Mzo stayed close to Mambush as their group set off on the walk to the nearest shack settlement some 400m across the wasteland. Video of the scene shows hundreds of armed police officers moving around them. As the group approached the settlement, a police van raced across in front of them, uncoiling barbed wire, which blocked their path.

Mambush led them to the left around a small animal enclosure, made of bushes and blackthorn trees. But as they reached the far side, with the settlement in front of them, more police vans blocked their path. There was teargas. A water cannon opened fire. And then bullets, from behind and to their left.

Mzo remembered them running to their right through a small gap between the enclosure and the settlement – straight into yet more bullets, this time from in front of them. He felt three bullets pierce his left side – in the buttock, ribs and elbow. He fell, saw others fall, saw Mambush go down, felt a fourth bullet in his right thigh as he squirmed on the ground. He lay still on his back. He said his legs would not move. The firing had stopped. Then two or three police officers were standing over him.

They started asking him about the sangoma whose sons had performed the traditional rituals for the strikers – who he was, where he was – and when he told them that he didn’t know, he says they shot him again in the right side of his ribs. They asked more questions, and then, he says, one of the officers kicked his legs apart and they shot him twice in the groin. Through the dust he could see Mambush, lying face downwards, the green blanket tangled around one shoulder, his mouth slightly open, dust on his tongue.

From the top of the koppie, Xolani had watched the attack begin. At first he was going to follow Mambush. He remembered hearing the shooting, running into a miner called Liau, saying he could not see Mambush any more and that now they must go in the other direction, where there were a few smaller koppies to hide in. But Liau ignored him and ran towards the settlement. He was shot in the chest – one of 17 men who died there. Xolani went in the opposite direction, tearing off his jacket as he went, in case it identified him as a strike leader and a target.

For 15 minutes, there was no firing. Then two groups of officers closed in on one of the two smaller koppies. Several dozen strikers were now hiding among its rocks and bushes. Police opened an explosion of intense fire – 295 bullets, many aimed from the top of the koppie down at the shapes of men huddling below. Seventeen more men died there. Police in one of the helicopters were lobbing stun grenades at fleeing miners.

As Xolani zig-zagged through the chaos, he pulled out his phone and called the number of the bishop of Pretoria. “Father, they are killing us.”

Green blanket

High over a valley in the Eastern Cape in March this year, 20 of Mambush’s family and friends gathered in a rondavel. They had come to talk to me and Jim Nichol, a veteran campaigning lawyer from London, who travelled to Marikana after the shootings and volunteered to represent the families of the 34 dead men. They talked about Mambush’s funeral, there in the village where he grew up, about how many hundreds came down from Johannesburg in coaches, and how they were joined by the local clan chief and by ward councillors. Even the police had tried to send representatives, but the villagers told them they were not welcome.

Mzo was not there – he stayed in hospital for three months. But Mbulelo was, carrying the coffin, as was Xolani, who was still involved in the strike. It held out for five weeks after the killings before Lonmin finally agreed to negotiate and to pay 7% higher wages. Veronica also came, with Asive. Tucked into her bag, she carried a green blanket stained with blood, which she burned as a kind of sacrament.

Nichol told them the latest from the Farlam inquiry, which not only explored the strike and shooting but also uncovered evidence that, when the killing was done, police officers planted weapons on some of the dead bodies and then set about “reverse engineering” a false story to justify their actions. Counsel for the inquiry accused six senior officers of giving false testimony and found that the police had concealed video and minutes that contradicted their story and fabricated other material to try to support it.

Mambush’s family talked about life in the village and about what has changed since 1994. The ragged old rondavels, which housed the junior school nearby, were torn down and replaced with new brick buildings. The government delivered a new tar road to the village, a new bus to take children to the high school (in his day, Mambush had to walk the 5km there and back) and a new health clinic.

And yet, they said, things have not changed so much. They still live in the three rondavels that formed the heart of their village, most of them sleeping on the ground. They still have no electricity. They cook over wood fires and use paraffin lamps for light. They still have no mains water supply and still drink from the same stream as their cattle. For some reason, they said, the new bus stopped running after less than a year. And the health clinic is too far to reach.

Above all, they said, they still have no real income. Since 1994, they had become better off. They have social grants – modest but nonetheless important state funds for pensioners and the sick. And at school there is a feeding scheme – porridge at the beginning of the day and a proper meal at lunchtime. But the reality is that now, as for decades, they still have to rely on menfolk, like Mambush, to migrate north to work beneath the ground and send home enough to keep them alive. Somewhere along the line, the engine of progress has stalled. – ©?Guardian News & Media 2015

South Africa panders to xenpohobia with migrant round-up and deportations



 Over 3,900 people arrested in xenophobia-related crackdown

May 17, 2015 | Agency Staff

Arrests of illegal immigrants prompts charges that the government is fanning xenophobic sentiment, though authorities deny the operation targeted foreigners

MORE than 3,900 people — including 1,650 illegal immigrants — have been arrested in South Africa during a controversial police crackdown after April’s deadly xenophobic violence, authorities said Sunday. “We are satisfied that we have stabilised the situation and further loss of life has been prevented,” a government statement said.

“Security agencies continue to work around the clock to protect both foreign nationals and South African citizens against any attacks.” The crackdown came after at least seven people were killed as mobs hunted down migrant workers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African countries, forcing hundreds of terrified families to abandon their homes.

Rampant unemployment and poverty are seen as an underlying cause of the violence by South Africans who accused migrants of stealing their jobs.

The arrests of illegal immigrants has prompted charges that the government was fanning xenophobic sentiment, though authorities categorically denied that the operation targeted foreigners. Some 2,260 South Africans have been arrested on a variety of charges since the operation began. “We will, in the next weeks and months, accelerate our efforts to take back public buildings that have been hijacked, either by foreign nationals or by South Africans; rid our townships and villages of drugs … that are destroying the lives of many young people,” the government statement added.

Authorities are also going to continue with expulsions of foreigners. More than 400 Mozambicans were expelled Friday and 427 others in SA illegally are slated to be kicked out in the coming days.

While President Jacob Zuma has denounced the anti-immigrant violence he also promised to step up a crackdown on illegal immigration.

The police operation was strongly criticised during a rally Saturday in an immigrant neighbourhood in Johannesburg. “Its timing, coming in the wake of the violent attacks targeting in particular people of African origin, feeds into the misconceptions that migrants are to blame for all our social and economic ills,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, ex-secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has attracted millions of migrants fleeing political and economic turmoil in their own countries.

Zimbabweans account for the largest population of migrants in South Africa, with some analysts estimating they make up 23% of the whole workforce.

With a youth unemployment rate of over 50% and a slowing economy, cheap foreign labour is a hot political issue.



Mozambicans protest against xenophobic attack in South Africa in Maputo. 25 April 2015
Mozambicans protested outside the South African embassy in Maputo against xenophobic attacks

South Africa has deported more than 400 Mozambicans, weeks after anti-foreigner violence in Durban and Johannesburg left several people dead.

The move follows a police operation that uncovered hundreds of undocumented migrants.

Many unemployed South Africans accuse foreigners of taking their jobs in a country where the unemployment rate is 24%.

Mozambique’s government said it was surprised by the deportations.

“We expected to hold talks with the South Africans to discuss the problem, but we just saw people being arrested,” said Foreign Minister Oldemiro Baloi.

A wave of xenophobic attacks in April left at least seven people dead, including one Mozambican.

Mobs targeted workers from Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Mozambique and other African countries.

Correspondents say that although South African authorities condemned the violence, they have also sought to address complaints about foreigners working illegally in the country.

Foreign nationals pack up their shops in the small village of Primrose, near Germiston about 15km east of Johannesburg, on 16 April 2015
Many foreign nationals closed their shops after the violence in Johannesburg

Officials have strongly denied that the police operation targeted foreigners.

A government statement on Sunday said that more than 3,900 people, including 1,650 illegal immigrants, had been arrested since April’s clashes.

“We are satisfied that we have stabilised the situation and further loss of life has been prevented,” the statement said.

“Security agencies continue to work around the clock to protect both foreign nationals and South African citizens against any attacks.”

Many of the deported Mozambicans have been housed in tents in a transit centre near the capital Maputo.

When violence erupted, Mozambique set up border camps to cope with the exodus of its citizens.

Police officers advance to enter men's hostel after xenophobic violence in the area overnight forced foreign shop owners to close their shops for fear of attack in Actonville, Johannesburg on 16 April 2015
Riot police tried to prevent the attacks on foreigners in Johannesburg

Jose Macuacua said he had entered South Africa illegally and had lived there for two years selling mobile phone SIM cards.

“The police first asked for my ID, which I didn’t have,” he said, adding that he hadn’t been allowed to gather his belongings before he was taken to a repatriation centre.

Maria da Gloria Mathe said she and her husband had lived in the city of Rustenburg for four years selling clothes.

“We collected what we could in a hurry because the police were standing at the door of our shop,” she said.

South African President Jacob Zuma described last month’s violence as “shocking” and appealed for calm.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini was accused of fuelling the attacks by saying that foreigners should “go back to their countries”. However, he said his comments had been distorted.

South Africa – migrants scared of leaving camps because of xenophobia attacks

Mail and Guardian

here have been very limited government-led reintegration efforts after the xenophobic violence, writes Emi Maclean from Médecins Sans Frontières.

The conflict that killed her father pushed Elvira Munezero, a 39-year-old nurse-midwife, to flee Burundi in 2004. She and her husband, Jean Njoragoze, sought refuge in South Africa where she has been working to provide medical care to patients at St Mary’s hospital in Pinetown in KwaZulu-Natal. With a president refusing to step down, Burundi is on a knife-edge again and many of its citizens have left the country in search of safety. But in South Africa, xenophobic violence has sent Burundians fleeing for their lives.

Elvira and her husband and five children are among approximately 887 people in the last remaining camp for displaced people in Chatsworth outside Durban. Following the attacks last month, nearly 8 000 displaced people sought shelter in three camps around Durban. Within a fortnight there were mass repatriations of Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and Malawians – 2 000 left on 39 buses – and later the camps were consolidated into a single camp.


The residents of this camp now consist primarily of Congolese and Burundian refugees and asylum-seekers who cannot safely go back to their home countries. A smaller number of people – approximately 45 from Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda Tanzania and Zimbabwe – chose not to be repatriated but do not yet feel safe to leave the camp. An additional 100 people live in a shelter in the town, and many others, including Somalis and Ethiopians, remain displaced throughout the city.

Merely looking at the numbers – the official death toll of seven – does not reflect the greater impact of xenophobia in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere in South Africa. Hundreds of shops and businesses were looted and destroyed, there were countless non-fatal injuries, migrants embarked on a mass exodus from Durban, and South Africa has been plunged into a deep crisis of faith and trust. It appears that South Africa is eager to swiftly move on from history repeating itself. A flurry of #StopXenophobia hashtags and talk of reintegration are juxtaposed against recent security operations that aim to sweep away the inconvenient reality of migration and the vulnerability of people forced to live on the margins of society, all in the name of crime prevention.

Where were the police?

But Elvira and fellow residents of Chatsworth ask: “Where were the police when the mobs were attacking us? How can we go back to a community where our own neighbours turned against us? We have seen this violence more than once, how can we trust that it won’t return?”

Last week psychologists from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) assessed people in the Chatsworth camp and found that many have symptoms of post-traumatic stress consistent with those of people living in camps in South Sudan and Central African Republic, where people are fleeing active conflicts. Some of those displaced in Durban face multiple and compounded trauma, with this most recent displacement added to others experienced before. The trauma related to repeated insults in their everyday life in South Africa was also striking.

Their fear is real. Government characterises Mozambican Emmanuel Josias Sithole’s killing as purely criminal. Malawian Francois Kandulu’s body was found decapitated at a railway line next to a KwaZulu-Natal displacement camp, classified as an accident or a suicide.

But those people affected by xenophobic violence are not all convinced – more so after Congolese and Ethiopian nationals were killed last week in KwaZulu-Natal. Congolese hairdresser Lumona Ziko was killed outside his home in Pietermaritzburg only four days after he returned from a temporary shelter. Ethiopian shopkeeper Etebo Kebed was gunned inside his shop after receiving threats.

The killings are high water marks, but displaced people narrate a flood of testimonies of the repeated daily discrimination they face in taxis, on street corners, in workplaces and schools, and in accessing public services, from hospitals to police stations.

Since mid-April, MSF has worked with eThekwini authorities to provide medical care, psychosocial care and water and sanitation support for people displaced by xenophobic violence in Durban. MSF provided similar support following the xenophobic violence in 2008.

Camps cannot be a long-term, or even medium-term, solution for people displaced by xenophobic violence. They are an emergency stopgap measure to ensure security, shelter and survival. They must meet international standards, and every effort must be made to ensure that they need not last beyond the emergency phase.

Thus far, however, there have been only very limited government-led reintegration efforts – mostly reaching out to councillors and other local government leaders without involving people who are displaced. Only a few dozen individuals have been transported from camps accompanied by armed police officers. Where such mechanisms must be deployed, it is a sign that communities may not yet be ready to accept retuning foreign nationals.

While the government’s re-integration plan does include extensive community dialogues, there is room for greater inclusiveness. Experiences from 2008 show that from-the-ground-up reintegration efforts bear lasting fruit. In Khayelitsha, in the Western Cape, communities organised themselves to stem the tide of violence in 2008 and welcome the displaced back home. Now, in 2015, there have been proactive efforts to ensure that violence does not return and that foreign nationals feel protected.

Conflicting message

The South African government should allow its words of condemnation to be matched by its action, not contracted. Breaking from its initial sluggish response to the xenophobic violence, governmental actors then spoke forcefully in opposition to the violence. Yet more recently the government launched a recent crackdown netting undocumented foreigners through Operation Fiela-Reclaim, which is sends a conflicting message that is deeply at odds with its role of urging reconciliation, dialogue and reintegration to the public.

Minister Jeff Radebe, who heads inter-ministerial committee on migration, says that Operation Fiela-Reclaim is “an operation to rid our country of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities” – but the statistics tell a different story.

The number of arrests from far outstrip the total of the reported arrests (307) made in April in connection with xenophobic violence. Deploying the military, police and home affairs officials with increased strength and resources by last week led to the arrest of 745 undocumented foreigners – more than doubling the population of the Lindela repatriation centre as they await eventual deportation. While government says these arrests aim to crack down on crime and restore order, fewer than 50 people among the total of 889 were arrested for crimes such as assault, murder, illegal weapons possession, or drug-related crimes.

Given that virtually all of those people arrested have been cited for being in South Africa without documents and nothing more, these sweeping operations are an uncommonly militarised response to contravening immigration law. It is hard not to believe that these actions signify a frantic knee-jerk security clampdown.

Such actions send a message that foreigners are a criminal scourge, rather than people fleeing abuses or seeking a better life. This wrongly reinforces an “us versus them” mentality in the minds of ordinary South Africans. In fact, the aggressive arrest, detention and deportations of undocumented foreigners suggest potential to exacerbate xenophobia further.

Xenophobia must not be tolerated – whether it is severe violence or the daily prejudice and occasional killing and targeting of foreign shopkeepers that has become all too familiar in South Africa.

The strong public and political cries for tolerance must not be limited to this moment and we should recognise that mass exodus of foreigners is evidence of our society failing collectively. We need to work harder to root out xenophobia – at the very least we all owe it to the individuals and communities affected in recent weeks – but also foreign nationals who undoubtedly will continue to come to South Africa as migrants, refugees or asylum seekers because their desperate circumstances.

  • Emi MacLean and Sharon Ekambaram work for Médecins Sans Frontières in KwaZulu-Natal

South Africa – Maimane and James face off for DA leadership

Mail and Guardian

The debate between the party’s parliamentary and federal leaders laid bare key differences in their personal politics, and political personability.

A 30-minute TV debate between Mmusi Maimane Wilmot James was spent discussing their stances on the death penalty, the judicial system, gay rights and the role of religion. (Paul Botes, MG)

The top two candidates for the position of Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane and Wilmot James, expressed differing opinions on certain pertinent rights issues during a televised debate on Monday night.

A section of the 30-minute debate, which aired on DStv’s kykNet channel, was spent discussing their stances on the death penalty, the judicial system, gay rights and the role of religion.

Rapport editor and Insig presenter Waldimar Pelser questioned James, who is currently the party’s federal leader, on comments he made to the Sunday Times that bail should be denied for rape accused, and how that could be defended from a liberal perspective.

“Bail is not punitive… What I would recommend is to make the default condition in violent crime that bail is not provided unless the accused and the defence can make a case for bail to be granted and the judge makes the final decision,” James responded.

Pelser said the granting of bail was a basic right in the Bill of Rights, and James agreed.

James said in the Sunday Times that bail should be denied “because the chance of a repeat is so grave, especially in a country like ours…”.

Maimane, who is the party’s parliamentary leader, responded on Monday that South Africans “get accused of too many things”.

“Make no mistake, there have been many people who have had allegations against them. It is our Constitutional right that once the allegation has been made, you are innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

Death penalty
Maimane was then questioned over comments he made over the possibility of a referendum on the death penalty.

“If the people want to vote on it, the people must vote on it,” he said, adding that he did not agree with the penalty, however it was the democratic right of people to voice their opinions.

James said Maimane did not understand the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

“The Bill of Rights, which has the right to life … cannot be changed by a vote in Parliament, it cannot be subject to a referendum,” he said.

Maimane disagreed.

“The ultimate right that at least is given to the people of this country is that it is always their voice that must be given expression.”

Maimane was asked by Pelser if God spoke to him on how he led the party in Parliament.

“It’s important, it’s my own personal choice … I still maintain my faith. It is something I must practise – I am entitled to do so,” he responded.

“There is a generalised view that if you have religion, you cannot be liberal, which I think is dangerous. I think the issue here is that I have a personal conviction … but I also understand that my faith is subject to the laws of this country.”

Pelser asked Maimane about Liberty Church, where he is a preacher, and how he could reconcile its stance against gay marriage with the rights enshrined in the Constitution.

“Our church does not prescribe the laws to the country, its government. I don’t agree with everything that is said in our church, but the right exists for them to say that.”

James said there was a strict separation between church and state.

“There is no contradiction between being religious and being a liberal democrat. The choice is the individual’s choice,” he said.

Helen Zille
Both commented on outgoing party leader Helen Zille and how she helped the party to grow.

“She captained a very good team,” Maimane said. “We are here to elect a new captain, and the team will take it forward.”

James said he had initially wanted Zille to stay as leader into the forthcoming local government elections.

“She is the party’s biggest brand when it comes to good governance,” he said.

Maimane said he was going to build a version of the party that was more consistent and did not “flip-flop” in its stance on important issues.

“We flip-flop on issues, we support the NDP [National Development Plan] then we don’t. We support redress, then we vote for Bills that are racist fundamentally. That is not what I’m trying to build. I’m trying to build a party that is consistent,” he said.

‘Racist’ Bill
Maimane’s comment was in response to a question initially asked to James by Pelser on the party initially voting for the Employment Equity Act Amendment Bill in Parliament, only to say it was mistake, and the party’s relationship with the NDP.

“We are becoming an alternate ANC under the current leadership and I aim to set that right,” James said.

Maimane said he was not in Parliament when the decision was made to vote for the “racist” Bill.

“It was an error on our part. We should not have supported a Bill that articulates quotas. What we should be doing is going back to our principles.”

James agreed that the party was wrong in voting for the Bill.

‘New vision’
Maimane said he wanted to create a party that communicated a new vision for the country.

“We have to be the party that communicates the vision for South Africa. Historically we have been a party that communicates what we stand against, how we oppose the ANC. Now the function is to articulate a vision for tomorrow.”

James said he had the ability and courage to lead the party in a new direction that focused on communicating with voters.

“[This is] on the basis of being a principled party, of being a unified party, being a growing party, being a party with new ideas and a winning party.”

At the end of the debate both then tackled a question from a Twitter user on whether public disagreements between two DA leaders would confuse voters about the party’s general stance.

Maimane said the best thing about the DA was that members could disagree with each other.

“I think it’s important as a demonstration of democracy. I can take this party forward regardless of the divisions that some seem to suggest are there.”

James said: “When I win on Sunday, I will expect Mr Maimane to unite behind me. And if he wins I will unite behind him.”

Maimane had the last word with a quick “see you on Sunday”.

The new party leader will be elected at the federal congress in Nelson Mandela Bay at the weekend. – News24

South Africa – Malema demands release of Marikana report

City Press

Release Marikana report, Malema to Zuma

EFF leader Julius Malema. Picture: Rogan Ward

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema has called on President Jacob Zuma to release the Marikana report with immediate effect, so workers can know who was responsible for the killings.

Malema was addressing a May Day rally in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.

He told about 7 000 EFF supporters at the NU 1 Cricket Stadium who had packed a large marquee that the Marikana report needed to be released so workers could finally know the truth.

“We take this important day of the workers to call upon Jacob Zuma to release the Marikana report. The only thing Zuma can do to honour this Workers Day is to release the report. We want to know who gave an instruction for our brothers to be killed in Marikana,” Malema said.

The outspoken leader said the EFF knew for a fact that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa had been behind the Marikana killings.

Flanked by EFF chairperson, Dali Mpofu, an advocate who represented injured miners at the Farlam Commission of inquiry into the massacre; Malema said if the report does not conclude that Ramaphosa was the one who ordered the killing, they would not accept it.

“We want a report that says Cyril Ramaphosa must be arrested and stand before court for the murder of the workers in Marikana.

“Ramaphosa must be prosecuted for the murder of the people in defence of white capital. We will never rest until there is justice for the workers of Marikana,” Malema said to loud applause.

Malema used the rally to lambast the ruling party, saying workers needed to do some soul searching and ask themselves why they were voting for a party that killed workers.

“They killed workers in Marikana. Cosatu says it loves workers and represents them and still says to workers, they must elect the same people who killed miners. No self-respecting worker will encourage other workers to vote for the murderous ANC,” he said.

Malema compared the ANC government to that of apartheid rule.

“ANC falls in the same category with apartheid. What the ANC did with the workers in Marikana is what apartheid did to our people in Sharpville. They are the same. Use this day as workers to ask yourself why you voted for a government which killed fellow workers,” he said.

He said the EFF would never forgive the ANC until the ruling party came out and accepted that its government killed people in Marikana and apologises for that.

South Africa – did anyone learn anything from 2008 xenophobic attacks

Mail and Guardian

As attacks spread, leading to murder and thousands of displaced foreigners, we must ask if the bitter pill we swallowed then has had tangible results.

Madala Hostel residents in Alexandra were indignant during police raids following the recent xenophobic attacks that spread to Gauteng. (Gustav Butlex)


“If the government has failed [to stabilise the situation], it should admit that it has done so, call in the army and declare a state of emergency,” said Congolese businessperson Daniel Byamunga Dunia from the confines of a Prospecton refugee camp in Durban last week.

It was hard to accuse Dunia, who had emerged as a spokesperson at this camp sheltering almost 300 people, of being alarmist. Refugees hailing from various parts of sub-Saharan Africa had been pouring into camps around the city for roughly two weeks.

Violence and looting targeting foreigners or their businesses continued to erupt in the city and parts of the province, spiralling back to Gauteng. By Sunday, pictures of the fatal stabbing of a Mozambican named Emmanuel Sithole in Alexandra, near Sandton, had made front-page news, with the president ­saying they made South Africa “look bad”.

As it was in 2008 when more than 60 people were killed in xenophobic attacks, it was the hate graphically inflicted on Mozambicans that would come to symbolise the latest grisly wave of xenophobia. The 2008 murder of Ernesto Nhamuave, who was burned alive in the Ramaphosa informal settlement on the East Rand, was never solved. The murder of Sithole, on the other hand, brought about the first arrests for the murder of a foreigner since this round of attacks started on March 31.

That the government eventually deployed the army in the Johannesburg hot spots of Alexandra and Jeppestown and other parts of the country may or may not be viewed through the prism of Dunia’s comments, although Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula admitted that “we are deploying because there is an emergency”. A spokesperson for the defence force said the army was only there to assist the police.

True enough, in the raids that took place in hostels in Alex and Jeppestown, which to an extent have become the launchpads of some of the attacks, the soldiers hung back. They were there to bolster the fortitude that was seemingly missing from the police, who in some cases avoided confrontations with looters and attackers.

Early warning systems
Although concerted efforts to set up early warning systems were made by security agencies, refugee rights groups and nongovernmental organisations following 2008’s xenophobic violence, several factors have coalesced to undermine the system. This has resulted in the seemingly haphazard and reactive responses to the current attacks.

Observers with insight into the security services believe that a lack of capacity in intelligence gathering, continuing problems with public order policing and increasing political polarisation have resulted in apathy and paralysis in the on-the-ground police response to xenophobia, despite the systems that have been put in place.

China Ngubane of the KwaZulu-Natal-based Centre for Civil Society says in Isipingo, where the current wave of attacks was sparked by an industrial dispute, “it was like the police were the friends of the looters. It was like they were helping because there were no warning shots or teargas being fired. They had no will to stop it.

“I spoke to a station commander about what was happening at Isipingo and I was told that they were short-staffed, which was why you had people being turned away from opening cases.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), working with organisations such as the African Centre for Migration and Society and the Displaced and Migrant Persons Support Programme, has built a network of SMS informants to feed information directly to the police.

Tina Ghelli of the UNHCR believes that the system has had a positive impact where it has already been set up. “Where we’ve sent info through, police have responded quickly. Usually, there are follow-up messages that police are in the area,” she said. “Sometimes there is no response from the police but when there is, fewer shops are affected.”

Walter da Costa, the manager of the Displaced and Migrants Persons Support Programme, who was involved in initiating the early warning system network, admits that it had not been properly set up around the country when the recent wave of attacks erupted in KwaZulu-Natal.

“There are a lot of low-level, everyday xenophobic attacks and sometimes it’s difficult to get early warnings more than 24 hours in advance, because at times the looting happens when there’s some other activity like service delivery protests,” says Da Costa, a former member of the South African National Defence Force. “When the situation is festering and there is mobilisation taking place, that’s when the system works.”

Police apathy
Da Costa says the fact that the system doesn’t often trickle down is indicative of “the apathy of individual police”. Then there are other issues complicating matters, such as how police handle the looting scene when they get there.

During the wave of looting that took place in Soweto in January, a daily newspaper ran an unforgettable image of a trio of traffic cops walking away as young men plunged into an already agape foreign-owned shop named Madiba Supermarket to empty out its remains.

“Police might cordon off a scene but will allow looters to loot until they’re finished, or they wait to use maximum force, which they can’t since Marikana,” observes Da Costa.

Crime intelligence
When it comes to handling public violence, the challenges facing public order policing since 2008 haven’t been completely addressed. In the tax year ending 2009, there were only 3 306 trained public order policing members compared to 7 227 in the year ending 2006. Last year that figure was 4 700, says Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies. “We saw an improvement in the numbers of public order officials in 2010, but that dropped thereafter.”

Newham says information from 2008 shows that even those attacks had been organised. “People were going from door to door, saying: ‘You’ll be attacked; leave now.’ They were orchestrated by either formal or informal local-level leaders [like taxi owners or ward councillors]. They had status and could mobilise people.

“It is therefore important to have good informer networks in places where xenophobic violence has occurred to ensure that the police are able to receive information that enables them to intervene proactively when violence is being planned. [The fact] that people who looted foreign-run or -owned shops largely got away with it further encouraged people in the latest wave of attacks.”

Newham says over the past few years there has been a deterioration in crime intelligence capacity, coupled with an increase in aggravated robberies between 2012 (101 203) and 2014 (119 351) – an average increase of 50 robberies per day.

“This deterioration in capacity occurred following political interference to protect South African Police Service head of crime intelligence Lieutenant General Richard Mdluli, despite mountains of evidence of wrongdoing,” says Newham. “Senior and experienced officers who were against Mdluli were forced out and a number of Mdluli’s cronies are still active in this division. This has contributed to a climate of mistrust and low morale at a leadership level.”

Tighter controls
Da Costa notes that in Soweto, for example, where more than 1 000 shops were looted, “there were large gangs moving from township to township, taking cigarettes, airtime and cash on hand, then leaving the shops more vulnerable”.

In Durban and Johannesburg, the attackers mostly targeted foreign-owned shops before the situation degenerated into general attacks on foreigners, which hasn’t happened on a large scale since 2008.

Government-speak around the framing of xenophobia has increasingly moved towards avoidance of the term “xenophobia” in favour of characterising attacks of foreigners as primarily criminal, as if the two were mutually exclusive concepts.

Loren Landau, the South African research chair in mobility and the politics of difference at the African Centre for Migration and Society, says although the nature of the violence has mutated, foreigners continue to be held collectively responsible for economic stagnation and crimes purportedly committed by individuals. “What I believe has remained constant is the role of local political and economic interests in fomenting the attacks,” he says.

Landau believes part of the problem “is in how we select and support our leaders. Ward councillors are the only directly elected officials and the only ones who must meet constituents face-to-face to be elected. They face the firing line of popular discontent, but are poorly empowered to address their voters’ gripes.”

He says: “Faced with perennial shortfalls of services, dwellings and jobs, is it any wonder local leadership allows and abets the scapegoating and appropriation of foreign-owned shops, houses or goods? With new resources to distribute and a demon to blame, they come out winners.”

Landau believes tighter immigration control, which the government has begun implementing, will only drive people further underground, making them more exploitable. Moreover, shutting off trade and traffic between South Africa and its neighbours will weaken the regional economy, which depends heavily on remittances, he says.

South Africa – social and economic factors behind xenophobic attacks


South Africa’s xenophobia problem: dispelling the myths

While not all migrants are law abiding, the stereotyped image of West African criminal kingpins corrupting society – once a staple of the media – is factually incorrect. According to a 2014 report by the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, foreign nationals make up just four percent of the total sentenced population.

“We are not dealing with hard facts, we’re dealing with perceptions,” David Cote, at Lawyers for Human Rights, told IRIN.

Is the violence spontaneous or directed?

Historically it has been a bit of both, according to Cote. At the local ward level, foreigners are easy scapegoats for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s service delivery failures – and are the victims of violence in nearly every protest against the government’s performance. “Local businesses are also trying to rid themselves of competition” from foreign-owned informal “spaza” shops, and are accused of stoking the attacks, said Cote.

Local authorities have adopted “a ‘protectionist’ position, which leads to various regulatory and policing responses that seek to disadvantage, if not entirely eliminate, migrant entrepreneurship,” according to SAMP researchers Jonathan Crush and Sujata Ramachandran.

There is a widespread perception that migrant-owned spaza shops somehow disadvantage South Africans, and the ANC has tapped into the resentment that newly-arrived foreigners seem able to set-up shops and make money. Speaking in a climate of mounting tension in January, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said migrant entrepreneurs must share their trade secrets.

The way forward

Violence against migrants and their property is a constant threat, with the worst eruption in 2008 when 70 people died. But as the latest unrest has spread, many South Africans have rallied to support their foreign-born neighbours and, shocked and dismayed, have condemned the attacks.

President Zuma and his ministers’ belated move to reassure migrants and contain the violence has lacked a similar ring of sincerity and urgency. Past initiatives to roll back xenophobia have lapsed – undermined by official denials of the existence of the problem, the violence explained as simple criminality.

“The country’s leadership – from the highest level to the local level – must speak in a unified voice to dispel the myths about foreign nationals,” wrote Tamukomoyo. “The state’s intelligence agencies must direct their efforts to better understanding the dynamics behind the violent attacks, to better predict where they may occur and to what extent they are organised.”
According to Cote, unlike in the past where perpetrators of violence have often escaped justice, “I hope the question of impunity is addressed this time around, that prosecutions take place and people are sentenced appropriately.”