Saturday, 25 February 2017

Xenophobic attacks continue in South Africa

South African police officers detained a Nigerian during a face-off with a group of South Africans in the centre of Pretoria yesterday. Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to break up clashes between local protesters and migrants in Pretoria during a march against immigration. PHOTO: MARCO LONGARI/AFP

Nigerian Group Threatens Action
There appears to be little respite for Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora at the moment. While those at home are facing economic challenges due to the current recession, those in South Africa are grappling with xenophobia from the citizens, while Libya has become living hell for many seeking greener pastures and wanting to cross to Europe.

Even those in Europe already, albeit, illegally, face deportation, while palpable fear stares those in the United States (US) in the face as a result of the policies of President Donald Trump.

On Thursday, no fewer than 43 Nigerians were deported from Germany, Belgium and Italy for alleged immigration-related offences and unruly behaviour.

Earlier in the week, 171 Nigerians returned from Libya with a tale of woes after their attempts to cross to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert failed.

Yesterday, the xenophobia protests continued across South Africa, with violence spreading to Pretoria, the country’s capital. The South African police said it arrested 136 people, as the anti-foreigner protesters clashed with African immigrants in the capital.

Acting police chief, Khomotso Phahlane, said the arrests were made during the past 24 hours, but did not disclose how many were South Africans and how many foreigners, according to News 24.

In Pretoria, a march organised by a group calling itself the Mamelodi Concerned Residents escalated into a tense confrontation between protesters and foreigners, some of who carried rocks, sticks and machetes, which they said was to protect their property.

The Police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators on both sides, according to Reuters. Video footage from the protests showed angry South Africans chanting and calling for African immigrants to be sent home.

The protesters accused African immigrants, including Nigerians and Somalis, of being involved in crimes, such as drug and sex trades. The incidents have prompted an angry response in Nigeria, where protesters in Abuja on Thursday marched to the offices of South African telecoms firm MTN and satellite cable service provider, DSTV.

Over a quarter of the South African population is unemployed and protesters have blamed foreigners for taking local jobs. The founder of a new anti-immigrant political party called South African First, Mario Khumalo, told news site Times Live that over 13 million foreign nationals were living in South Africa.

But South Africa’s last census in 2011 estimated that only 2.2 million people born outside the country were living there, according to fact checking site Africa Check.

The United Nations put the number of foreign migrants living in South Africa at 3.1 million in 2015. President Jacob Zuma denounced the violence against foreigners in a statement yesterday, saying: “It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers.

“Let us isolate those who commit such crimes and work with government to have them arrested, without stereotyping and causing harm to innocent people.”

The country’s Interior Minister, Malusi Gigaba, told South Africa’s Parliament on Thursday that authorities would crack down on the employment of illegal migrants by local businesses.

South African labour law requires 60 per cent of a company’s employees to be South African or permanent residents of the country. The country has experienced periodic outbreaks of xenophobic violence in the past. In 2015, at least five people were killed in attacks on African and international migrants in Pretoria and Johannesburg, while properties and businesses owned by foreigners were looted and torched.

In Abuja, a civil rights group, the Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER), yesterday threatened to embark on series of coordinated actions that would send a strong message to South Africans to refrain from further xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.

CASER’s Executive Director, Frank Tietie, in a statement urged the South African government to match words with action by taking urgent steps to permanently arrest the recurring hate attacks on Nigerians.

CASER stated that its action is irrespective of what the two governments do or fail to do, even as it charged both governments to move beyond rhetoric and ensure that victims of the renewed xenophobic attacks in South Africa were compensated.

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