A young Mozambican migrant, bleeding from a head wound, is protected from further assault by a squad of South African police officers as he’s loaded into an ambulance in Alexandra township in Johannesburg.
Parts of South Africa, especially in the country’s largest city, Johannesburg, remain tense and occupied by security forces trying to prevent violence against foreigners. Protestors are demanding that migrants, who they accuse of “stealing jobs” and being criminals, leave the country.
Migrants and refugees from a wide range of nations have poured into the continent’s second-largest and most developed economy for decades. The flood began in the early 1990s when apartheid began to fall as many African foreigners came to look for jobs in South Africa.
Some demonstrations have ignited attacks on people perceived to be migrants from other African countries. Scores have been injured and seen their property destroyed.
The xenophobic violence against immigrants in South Africa started in 2008, with Alexandra serving as its wellspring. It’s a high-density shack-land, home to thousands of locals and immigrants with little access to basic services.
Thirteen years ago, the anti-foreigner violence spread across the country and eventually resulted in the deaths of 62 people, including 21 South Africans, 11 Mozambicans, five Zimbabweans, and three Somalis, according to Human Rights Watch. Thousands were injured.
South Africa has an official unemployment rate of 35 percent—the highest in the world—and violent crime is rife. Yet it still offers migrants a chance for a better life.
The African National Congress (ANC) government estimates the number of illegal and legal immigrants to be between 3 million and 6 million people.
Article continues below these jobs
A new wave of xenophobia started rising in the run-up to local government polls in October 2021.
Three political parties, Action SA, the Patriotic Alliance (PA), and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), campaigned using strong anti-migrant rhetoric. The parties performed well above expectations, with their representatives now holding office in many town and city councils.
“These people that come from Zimbabwe, Congo, Mozambique, and lord knows where else, and get jobs here, while our graduates sit at home, they must go! We must remove them!” Gayton McKenzie, PA leader, told The Epoch Times.
In recent weeks, senior ANC officials, including Defense Minister Thandi Modise, have expressed similar sentiments.
“Sometimes we’re too shy to say to people who cross the borders legally and illegally, who do not respect our laws, traditions, and cultures, that we’re fed-up,” she told a press conference. “That doesn’t turn us into people who are xenophobic. The truth of the matter is that most of the [crime] syndicates aren’t run by South Africans.”
Organizations lobbying for migrant rights have slammed Modise’s comments as “highly irresponsible” and “not based on fact.”
They say some “radical” elements are using politicians’ statements to justify attacks on people that they decide “don’t belong” in South Africans.
Dennis Naidoo, a South African of Indian heritage, was working in his butcher shop in Alexandra when a crowd gathered outside of it.
“They chucked petrol bombs in and my place was burnt to ashes,” he told The Epoch Times. “I just got my mother out in time: She’s 79. I’m from this country. My employees are locals. I showed these gangsters my ID card, but they didn’t care. They still accused me of being from Bangladesh or Pakistan.”
The incident happened during a protest organized by Operation Dudula. (The word dudula means “to push.”) The group says it’s tired of illegal foreigners competing with locals for scarce resources. It wants to push them out of South Africa.
Dudula is led by an eloquent man in his late 20s, Nhlanhla Lux, who’s conspicuous in his military fatigues and dark sunglasses. He said his movement is behaving “responsibly” by targeting only “undocumented” migrants.
The group’s focus is directed especially at migrants who have established businesses in townships. On March 21, in Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, crowds of locals rampaged through the district, destroying shops and roadside stalls.
The anti-foreigner operations that have a measure of organization and discipline, such as Dudula, are splintering into loose mobs of younger unemployed people, some appearing to be under the influence of alcohol and drugs. It’s a situation that’s forcing many migrants into hiding.
In the shadow of a line of police officers protecting a foreign-owned store from being looted, with teargas fumes hanging in the air, Lux told reporters: “When South Africans stand up to express how they feel, it’s a problem. But when other people do the wrong thing, it’s not a problem.”
By “other people,” he was referring to migrants. With seven out of 10 young people who should be working, being unemployed, South Africa can’t afford to “carry” millions of migrants, he said.
“The police, the state, rich people, they say Operation Dudula is xenophobic, that we’re inciting hatred and violence,” Lux said. “They protect people who are not from here, while millions of South Africans don’t know what they’re eating tonight. Millions are unemployed. But we must say nothing, while illegal migrants steal water and electricity from us!
“It’s easy to hold up a sign saying ‘foreigners have rights, too,’ when you live in a nice house, and you’ve never been starving!”
Sharon Ekambaram, of Lawyers for Human Rights, said foreigners aren’t “stealing” resources and jobs from locals. Rather, many migrants are creating employment, while the government’s jobs programs fail because of bad economic policies.
Many migrants have no choice but to leave their home countries, which are wracked by war, political violence, and social ills that are “even worse” than those in South Africa, Ekambaram told The Epoch Times.
But Lux said South Africans can’t afford the “luxury” of worrying about crises elsewhere on the continent when they’re locked into their own battles to survive. He said the government’s ignoring the plight of citizens, who are suffering the “wrath” of foreign criminals. He pointed out that when police recently cracked several gangs of cash-in-transit robbers, almost all of those arrested were from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
“These people come to our land and don’t uphold our laws, then we’re expected to respect their human rights,” he said. “These human rights groups live in a dream world. They must come live in my world for a day, and then we’ll see if they still respect certain peoples’ human rights!”
Lux said many South Africans feel increasingly cornered.
“The grass is dry, so any spark—and we know what happens,” he said.