By: Abigail Calandra| Head Editor
September 12, 2019
On September 8, 2019, rioters began marching, calling on immigrants from other African countries to leave South Africa’s biggest city. Recent attacks on Nigerians and immigrants from other African countries in Johannesburg, South Africa have left at least ten people dead. Angry citizens from across the continent are calling this xenophobia. Although this isn’t a new or surprising rise in violence, politicians have been blaming the influx of immigration for poverty and the lack of basic services, rather than their own failures. And this couldn’t come at a worse time– the South African economy is on the verge of recession.
Celebrities as well as other Africans are boycotting South Africa in retaliation. Air Tanzania is suspending flights to Johannesburg, and Madagascar and Zambia are refusing to send their soccer teams. This week African leaders are meeting in Cape Town to discuss the African Continental Free Trade Area, which will be the largest free trade area in the world– over one billion consumers will be joined within one market. In retaliation to the attacks on their country, Nigeria pulled out of the Cape Town meeting.
It’s important to note that these attacks aren’t new, they’re part of a larger problem. Anti-immigrant sentiments have been a part of South African culture for decades. Two mass attacks in 2008 and 2015 killed dozens and displaced hundreds of immigrants. Analysis from the African Center for Migration and Society shows that these attacks are spread throughout a wide geographical area, with hot spots in major urban areas.
“I get that people are against illegal immigration,” SCHS senior Sydney Belden said. “But maybe people should express it in other ways than immoral illegality.”
There are about 3.6 million migrants living in South Africa, and they are disproportionately blamed for the social ills of the region, including economic stagnation, disease outbreak, drugs, and crime. This anti-immigrant language is not only coming from leaders of these xenophobic campaigns, it’s been coming from democratic and traditional leaders for over the past five years. And they are now facing criticism for their lack of action.
“I think that as long as xenophobic acts remain a constant irritant in Nigeria and South African relations, this discrepancy will only lead to the corruption of two major economies” senior Ryann Leff said. “[It will also] ultimately collapse a system that is already unstable.”
South Africa and Nigeria have both spoken out against the attacks. The Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has offered Nigerian nationals a free flight home if they feel unsafe due to the violence. The mixed messages from the South African president, and the lack of action by the government, is causing greater economic tensions between South Africa and their neighbors.
Nongovernmental organizations are working to address the threat of xenophobia, and people are taking to social media using hashtags such as #SayNoToXenophobia as a call to unity and an end to violence. There has not been a strong response from South African officials, especially those who are known for their anti-immigrant rhetoric. Violence subsided over the weekend, but a xenophobic march on Sunday showed signs that the violence will continue and may affect South African-Nigerian relations for the foreseeable future.