Following the xenophobic attacks in Alexandra, refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town are on the edge, as they fear that the Operation Dudula attacks that are targeting foreigners who came to seek employment in South Africa could spark a resurgence of the 2008-2009 xenophobic attacks which claimed the lives of many refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town.
This comes after social media posts of the mayhem were shared among members of the Congolese Civil Society of South Africa WhatsApp group, and several other posts on Twitter showcased the unrest.
In its report, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI) says Operation Dudula was orchestrated by some political parties under the misguided pretext of protecting employment for vulnerable South Africans.
Congolese Civil Society of South Africa founder Isaiah Mombilo said refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town are hoping that the attacks can come to an end, and given that the entire continent is under the same crisis, Mombilo believes that unity is needed instead of Afrophobia.
“I feel that it is unfair in terms of the realities of what is happening on our continent. Our continent as a whole is facing several economic crises like never before. We can see that Europe is united, they are supporting one another during this time and even politically, they are assisting one another, while in Africa, we are turning to Afrophobia.
“This is the moment to come together in solidarity, to fix what needs to be fixed. As we speak, our continent hangs on a thread as we pay the price of the Ukraine and Russia conflict, and instead of us coming together to see how we can be united as a continent, we are fighting one another. This is what saddens me the most,” said Mombilo.
Sharon Ekambaram, from the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme at Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), said given the country’s history of colonialism, apartheid, and oppression, campaigns like Operation Dudula and #PutSouthAfricansFirst are extremely concerning and reflect a discriminatory attitude toward migrants that marginalises people based on their nationality’s anti-migrant narrative.
“We are seeing these scape-goating tendencies in policies, laws, and election campaigns, filtering down to all government institutions and ultimately government officials, resulting in institutionalised xenophobia and the othering of migrants, specifically black migrants.”
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“Politicians rely on misinformation and untrue facts when campaigning or discussing an issue publicly. Often, politicians will inflate numbers or generalise in order to ‘prove’ their point or gain support. For example, politicians have used this tactic when referring to the number of non-nationals who are convicted of crimes and currently imprisoned, the number of non-nationals who access health-care services, or who currently have access to housing.
“Given that it is Human Rights Month, xenophobia infringes upon the constitutional rights of refugees and asylum seekers, such as the right to dignity, equality, freedom and security of persons, access to education, and healthcare. Furthermore, this populist narrative has steered politicians in a particular direction, resulting in a stark change in laws and policies that govern refugee protection and migration, narrowing the space for refugee protection,” said Ekambaram.
Ekambaram added that the systemic backlog issues within the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) asylum system, permanent residence department, and citizenship department, amongst others, intensifies the issue.
“We need to address systemic deficiencies within DHA in order to ensure that people are actually able to access documentation. We have a backlog of about 180 000 asylum seekers who are waiting to have their applications for refugee protection process.
“The DHA needs to address institutional xenophobia. The Minister of Home Affairs has made many statements about South Africa’s problem with ‘undocumented migrants,’ yet he fails to speak about systemic problems within the DHA, which are a direct result of many people remaining undocumented. You cannot punish people for a situation that the department has itself created or at the very least failed to address for decades,” said Ekambaram.
While the DA Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs plans on beefing up the asylum seeker adjudication process so that these applications and appeals are handled quickly, Adrian Christopher Roos, a member of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, said that actions by groups that make South Africa seem xenophobic keep foreigners from coming to South Africa, investing, and creating jobs. With so many people out of work, the country can’t afford this.
“There is a false choice being presented of ‘South Africans First’ or ‘foreign-owned businesses’. The real solution lies in holding the government to account for ineffective immigration management and creating an environment for growing our township economies through up-skilling South Africans and working with local and foreign investors to create opportunities for all,” said Roos.