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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£350 p/d (Contract): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP /...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Controller

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Head Porter / Concierge

£16000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks