PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma of South Africa has condemned recent acts of violence against African immigrants and insisted that most foreigners were law-abiding and contributed to the country’s economy.
He was speaking after unconfirmed reports claiming that about seven foreign nationals, including Ghanaians, had died in a renewed Xenophobia attacks in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
However, a statement issued by president Zuma’s office made no reference to any deaths. It said: “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.”
Later, when he addressed the media after an anti-immigrant march in the capital, Pretoria on Friday, Zuma denied that South Africans were xenophobic and that the event “was anti-crime in the main. It was not an anti-foreigners march.”
“The number of foreigners in South Africa are far more than the numbers that Europe is fighting about… but nobody calls them xenophobic,” Zuma added.
However, critics have accused Zuma of ducking the real issue behind the recent attacks on Nigerian nationals and other migrant African communities who were targeted by gangs wielding sticks, knives and all manner of weaponry.
Mamelodi Concerned Residents, the main group behind the Pretoria protests, blamed foreign nationals for taking jobs and accused them of being involved in prostitution rings and drug cartels.
The petition delivered to the home affairs ministry even alleged that worshippers from Zimbabwean apostolic churches, who congregate in the open, were “destroying our public parks”, and defecating and urinating in public.
It also said foreigners were “arrogant and don’t know how to talk to people, especially Nigerians”.
Furthermore, angry mobs who attacked Nigerians and looted shops belonging to Somalis, Pakistani and other migrants in townships around Pretoria and parts of Johannesburg this week were explicit in their anger at the presence of foreigners in South Africa.
A significant number of comments on social media by South Africans also express anger that corruption at the immigration department is rife. “Everyone knows that immigrants to South Africa can secure a residence permit by bribing corrupt officials,” wrote one man.
Another comment urged greater checks on foreigners coming into the country.
Official government figures released in 2016 indicate that there were 1.6 million foreign-born people in the country, down from 2.2 million in 2011.
Although president Zuma insists that the protests were “anti-crime” not “anti-foreigner,” the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has blamed poor leadership for the unrest.
“The root cause of this rise in xenophobic violence is the ANC government’s failure to create jobs and to equip our people with the necessary quality education and skills to gain employment,” the DA said in a statement.
South Africa experienced its worst outbreak of violence against foreigners in 2008, when more than 60 people died.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s home affairs minister has announced plans to inspect workplaces to see if firms are employing undocumented foreigners.