By John Ikani
UN experts have warned that attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa are on the increase, an ugly trend which they say “calls for greater accountability.”
The experts, known as Special Rapporteurs, said the xenophobic violence and discrimination rose under the guise of a recent protest movement known as Operation Dudula.
Originally a social media campaign, Operation Dudula has become an umbrella for the mobilization of violent protests, vigilante violence, arson targeting migrant-owned homes and businesses, and even the murder of foreign nationals.
While noting that xenophobic mobilisation has become the central campaign strategy for some political parties, the UN experts also accused senior Government officials of fanning the flames of violence with anti-migrant discourse.
“Anti-migrant discourse from senior government officials has fanned the flames of violence, and government actors have failed to prevent further violence or hold perpetrators accountable,” they said.
“Without urgent action from the government of South Africa to curb the scapegoating of migrants and refugees, and the widespread violence and intimidation against these groups, we are deeply concerned that the country is on the precipice of explosive violence,” the group continued.
It is worthwhile to note that xenophobia, especially against low-income, African and Southeast Asian migrants and refugees, had been a feature of South African politics for many years.
In 2008, for example, xenophobic violence resulted in the death of over 60 people and contributed to the displacement of at least 100,000.
Xenophobia is often explicitly racialised, targeting low-income Black migrants and refugees and, in some cases, South African citizens accused of being “too Black to be South African.”
In one highly publicised incident in April 2022, a 43-year-old Zimbabwean national and father of four was killed in Diepsloot by a group going door-to-door demanding to see visas.
The attackers drove the victim out of a place where he was seeking refuge, beat him and set him on fire. The violence has continued unabated. It is alleged that the burning of the Yeoville Market in Johannesburg on 20 June this year, was carried out by persons targeting migrant shopkeepers.
“The cost in human dignity and lives, particularly in light of the past 30 years of xenophobic violence, remains widespread and deeply troubling,” the experts said.
“We are gravely concerned that South Africa is not meeting its positive obligations to protect and promote human rights while preventing racial and xenophobic discrimination,” they said.
“At the same time, perpetrators enjoy widespread impunity for xenophobic rhetoric and violence, leading to a lack of accountability for serious human rights violations and the flourishing of racist and xenophobic political platforms.”
The experts urged private and public actors to honour their commitments to human rights and racial justice, and take a firm stand against the racist and xenophobic violence which continues in South Africa.
The UN experts have been in official communication with the South African Government to address these allegations and clarify its obligations under international law.