Monitoring and investigating xenophobic tensions and incidents in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, North West, Free State and in the Eastern Cape as an operational partner of the UNHCR, Militia / DMPSP has predicted and taken note of the recent heightened xenophobic tensions in the country.
A low Intensity Conflict (LIC) is gaining momentum towards foreign owned businesses, especially those owned by Somalian, Ethiopian and Pakistani/Bangladeshi traders.
In Gauteng an organization which sprung out of the tensions experienced last year in Freedom Park, calling itself the Greater Gauteng Business Forum (GGBF) has been established and is bringing together various local business forums together under one umbrella to oust foreign traders from townships.
This and other local business forums have been mobilizing and taking action against foreign shop keepers, forcibly closing, intimidating and even going as far as executing violent actions towards foreign traders.
However the main thrust of this LIC has been the constant criminal activities which is being executed towards foreign traders. Approximately 90% of all business robberies and crimes on businesses in townships is being carried out against foreign owned shops. Police response to such crime has been limited.
However police has taken action on several occasions against members of GGBF both in Soweto and on the East Rand, where arrests for intimidation were made, but these cases were withdrawn by the DPP.
General Government response has been moderate, and although they have taken note of the problem, their response has been to set up forums for discussion which are expected to have limited effect.
The indications have been however, that whilst the bureaucratic wheels are turning, the problem continues to fester and the xenophobic mobilization gains momentum.
In various incidents around the country foreign owned shops have been attacked, looted and even burnt to the ground. In places such as Port Elizabeth Somalian traders are being killed on a weekly basis, and recently attacks on foreigners other than traders have begun to rise as experienced in Diepsloot – Gauteng and in Limpopo recently.
With service delivery and other civil unrest taking place daily, especially in Gauteng, it is expected that attacks on foreigners will also be executed during such protests as has been the case in the past.
The issue of xenophobia in South Africa cannot be ignored. Although many of the local business forums have expressed that their issue is not xenophobic, it is nothing more than “grand standing”. The attitudes that we have experienced are purely xenophobic.
The trading issue being brought up by business forums as specifically relating to foreigners is creating a perception of xenophobia which is being taken advantage by criminal elements, and which makes refugees / foreigners easy targets for criminal elements.
The fact is however, that most communities which have been affected are not xenophobic and the situation / conflict between traders has been taken advantage of by criminal and other petty political elements.
In some communities including in Port Elizabeth and in Ramaphosa communities have stood up against local shop owners attacks on foreigners.
The situation is a developmental issue. Government needs to take serious heed before the situation explodes to something akin of the 2008 xenophobic attacks.