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African press review 16 April 2015

The South African press is embarrassed by a wave of xenophobic attacks against foreigners in the country.


South Africa's Mail and Guardian is reporting a spread of xenophobic violence through Durban, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal Province. According to the paper, life in the city has been disrupted by scenes of angry mobs, violent clashes, burned shops and displaced foreign nationals.

The newspaper found out that foreign nationals have filed complaints with the government about receiving SMS messages warning that “Zulus are coming to kill foreigners". It is a trend seen by the publication as harking back to the tumult of 2008.

Several local media outlets in Johannesburg also reported rising tensions in downtown Johannesburg earlier Wednesday, where foreign nationals stood their ground when a crowd tried to attack them. The standoff reportedly took place while the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department, the South African Police Service and the South African Revenue Service were combing the streets to confiscate counterfeit goods in the city centre.

BusinessDay says the country’s police chief, General Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega, has placed more than 800 anti-riot forces on high alert after attacks on foreign store owners in downtown Johannesburg. The daily voices suspicions that the deployments are an indication that the xenophobic attacks may have spread to Gauteng Province.

City Press asked Professor Loren Landau from the University of the Witwatersrand's African Centre for Migration and Society to explain the xenophobic attacks on foreigners. He gave three main reasons – proximity (they are easy targets), economic opportunities and the national discourse promoted by South Africa’s leaders.

The recent xenophobic attacks in the greater Durban area were linked to King Goodwill Zwelithini’s speech in Pongola a few weeks ago. “We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries,” the Zulu king said. Soon after he made his controversial comments, attacks flared up against foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal, City Press reported.

The violence has got Mail and Guardian wondering who will follow now that it is foreigners who are on the receiving end of the desperate hungry masses.

Last week President Jacob Zuma spoke out against the acts, saying that many South Africans had sought refuge in other countries during apartheid and had been treated with respect and dignity. He called for the same treatment to be extended to foreigners seeking refuge in the country at the moment.

The Sowetan address a very practical dimension of the problem – the fears of South Africans married to foreigners. According to the paper the issue is so serious that KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu has been trying to soothe their fears, especially of women married to foreigners.

Responding to a question on the impact of the recent spate of xenophobic attacks, Mchunu said "love is love", visibly irritated that some people were trying to question peoples’ rights to marry who they please. “If you love a Mozambican‚ a Nigerian or an American, so what!”, Mchunu is quoted by the Sowetan as saying.

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