South Africans discover xenophobia as foreigners flood in looking for work

Wielding sjamboks and sticks the 30-strong gang of men attacked street traders in Johannesburg city centre screaming in Zulu "phantsi ngekwerekwere" - down with the foreigners.

As hawkers from all over Africa scattered for cover, trying to protect their stock, a trader from Senegal was beaten until he bled, and had bricks thrown at him. The attack on Monday was the second by South African street sellers on foreign hawkers in less than a week.

The previous Wednesday six were arrested after shop windows were smashed, stalls overturned and foreign vendors attacked when hundreds of hawkers went on the rampage after a meeting in Johannesburg to protest at the influx of "alien" sellers onto the streets. By the afternoon usually bustling streets were eerily silent.

Xenophobes all over the world seem to share the same dictionary. Mannekie Solomon, chairman of the Inner Johannesburg Hawkers Committee, told the Sowetan newspaper that foreign traders were "leeches", who dirtied the streets and stole South African jobs. He and his members had not fought in the liberation struggle to let this happen.

In a country where official unemployment is more than 35 per cent and jobs in the formal sector scarce, scapegoats are being sought.

Johannesburg Council estimates 14,000 traders from around the world are now making R100m (pounds 13.5m), tax free, from selling everything from roasted mealies (corn cobs) to leather handbags.

The two attacks are the first dramatic signs of the savage competition for work. More worrying, they highlight the growing xenophobia of black South Africans towards migrants from other parts of the continent, whom they blame for everything from rising crime to unemployment.

This week the South African Human Rights Commission said the attacks were a fundamental abuse of the human rights of immigrants, who were protected under South Africa's celebrated new constitution. A spokesman said the attacks dented the international image of South Africa, particularly in Africa. One outraged black journalist, who witnessed the first attack, was clearly ashamed. "Are we not all Africans?" he said.

South Africa has experienced a flood of illegal African immigrants fleeing economic and social instability. Last year 180,713 were repatriated.

The majority came from Mozambique and Zimbabwe, although some have trekked from as far as Ethiopia. Those who are expelled are believed to be just the tip of the iceberg. Estimates of how many illegal immigrants are in the country range from 500,000 to 6 million.

Some take desperate risks. The first attack in Johannesburg city centre came as Kruger National Park revealed a pride of lions had been put down after eating a Mozambican man trying to cross illegally into South Africa. The lions were believed to be responsible for killing three other Mozambicans.

In the past nine months 11 people have been eaten by wild animals while trying to enter South Africa illegally, including a woman and her two- year-old son. There are also reports of Zimbabweans trying to swim the Limpopo River being eaten by crocodiles.

The influx of illegal immigrants - and the widespread xenophobia - is causing much soul searching. It costs South Africa at least R200m a year to remove illegals, who invariably turn up again weeks later.

As the army and police struggle to patrol the huge border more radical solutions are being suggested. Some academics claim it would be better to accept the border cannot be maintained, and allow immigrants to come in without penalty. They argue that the numbers involved are exaggerated and that the same people are being repatriated again and again.

Christian Rogerson and Talibre Toure, researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, challenge the notion that immigrants are a drain on the system. They claim immigrants actually create employment through their small businesses. Other recent research concluded migration was good for the economy because it brought in people with initiative.

Religious leaders, meanwhile, are appealing to a sense of fair play and attention to recent history. "While unemployment is a crisis for South Africa, that is no reason for the callous ill treatment of economic refugees who come to South Africa," said Bishop Mvume Dandale of the Southern Africa Methodist Church.

Reverend Paul Verryn, the Methodist bishop whose parish covers Johannesburg city centre, said attackers should remember that many African states had aided the struggle by protecting, housing and employing some of the country's current key leaders. The implication was clear: this was hardly the way to repay past favours.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Central London - £45,000-£55,000 + bonus

£45000 - £55000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: The focus of this is to deve...

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape