Friday,23 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)
Friday,23 February, 2018
Issue 1243, (23 - 29 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Migrants not misbehaving

Al-Ahram Weekly

Migrants from less-prosperous African countries were hounded by bands of xenophobic South Africans this week, convinced that those from across the Limpopo River were snatching their jobs from them, as hundreds of other migrants, this time attempting to cross to Europe in an unseaworthy boat, were drowned at the other end of the African continent in the Mediterranean.

The South African xenophobes, either deliberately or inadvertently, had misconstrued the words of Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, who in a vitriolic address last month was regarded as instigating violence against fellow Africans. Zwelithini had urged the deportation of foreign nationals, mostly other Africans, living in South Africa.

His comments were taken out of context, he later argued, but his words did not go unnoticed. "Foreigners must pack their bags and go home," he had thundered, though he later denied that he had insinuated that foreigners should return to their home countries.

"We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country's struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals,” he commented.

On Monday, Zwelithini convened an imbizo, or traditional meeting, at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban accompanied by at least 300 courtiers and Zulu tribal elders. Zulu tribesmen had rampaged through the streets of Durban, South Africa's largest port on the Indian Ocean and second-largest city, to protest against the influx of African migrants from across the Limpopo River that separates the country from Zimbabwe and other African countries.

Zimbabwean information minister Jonathan Moyo urged Zwelithini to "extinguish what he ignited" on his Twitter account. The Zulu monarch's spokesman later said that the king “didn't say foreigners must be attacked or harassed. He was talking about foreigners who are here illegally. Some are involved in serious crimes like drug and human trafficking.”

In response to the events South African president Jacob Zuma announced on Saturday that he was cancelling a planned visit to Indonesia. "These attacks [against fellow Africans] go against everything we believe in. The majority of South Africans love peace and good relations with their brothers and sisters in the continent," Zuma said in a statement.

As many as 300 people have been arrested following the violence in Durban that spread to other parts of South Africa including the financial and commercial capital Johannesburg.

South Africa's police minister Nathi Nhleko claimed that the comments made by king Zwelithini had been distorted by the media. But it remains the case that Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali nationals were tortured and murdered in cold blood in South Africa. One Mozambican migrant, Emmanuel Sithole (a common South African surname), was bludgeoned with a wrench and stabbed with machetes in Johannesburg's Alexandra Township. The US news network CNN reported that an observer had said “they wanted one thing and that was to kill Emmanuel.”

Anti-foreigner violence also approached the levels of 2008, when riots erupted throughout South Africa. The Chinese embassy in Pretoria complained that "scores of shops owned by Chinese nationals" had also been ransacked.

Chairperson of the regional African Union (AU), Zimbabwean war veteran and member of parliament Margaret Dongo blamed Zimbabwe's ruling party, ZANU-PF, for the current xenophobic crisis in South Africa. "They are the ones who have caused hardships and the high unemployment rate [in Zimbabwe], and they do not care about anyone because they are busy looting and building expensive mansions [in South Africa] for themselves," she said.

Angola's late Jonas Savimbi, leader of the opposition UNITA movement, had a monumental mansion in Cape Town. Leaders and ex-leaders from many southern African countries have properties in South Africa, while the vast majority of Africans in South Africa are living in abject poverty.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a political party run by Julius Malema, a firebrand former African National Congress (ANC) youth leader who is now a fierce opponent of Zuma and the ruling ANC, said many South Africans living in other countries were fleeing as they feared reprisal attacks. In Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, South African companies and vehicles bearing South African plates have been torched.

"Condemned to chronic hunger, unemployment and misery, our people are directing their anger at the wrong people," said Vukani Ndlovu, the EFF's chairman in KwaZulu-Natal.

As a crisis of identity grips contemporary South Africa, prospects for the country look perilous.

The Mediterranean was also converted into a vast cemetery last week as a result of the deaths of more migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Some 700 African and Middle Eastern migrants were feared dead after their unseaworthy vessel capsized off the coast of Libya in the latest in a series of tragedies. The southern European countries cannot cope with the problem, though Pope Francis urged European nations to act "swiftly and decisively" to end the tragedies.

 Greece, Italy and Malta are the worst-affected countries, but they ought not to be expected to shoulder the burden alone, especially since countries like Greece face dire economic woes. Other European Union nations must lend a hand.

There has been more than a suspicion of paternalism about the manner in which European leaders tackle the subject. Human rights groups are up in arms, and children and women account for a sizable number of the victims, even though young men constitute the bulk of those who dare to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats in their efforts to reach Europe.

"EU leaders must hold an emergency meeting in person or by phone within 48 hours to expedite this process and agree an immediate plan to stop these drownings. Europe cannot look the other way while thousands die off our shores," Justin Forsyth, chief executive of the charity Save the Children, commented.

European foreign ministers met in preparation for an EU summit on the issue, with EU foreign affairs representative Federica Mogherini saying that “today was a turning point” in Europe’s response to the migrant crisis.

The political chaos in Libya is the root cause of the problem, and at least 20 Ethiopian Christians were butchered by Islamist terrorist militias in the country this week. Even at sea, African Christians were thrown overboard by Muslim passengers in a fracas that indicates that sectarian and religious strife is rife. 

The Italian authorities have decided to prosecute 15 Muslim migrants on charges of deliberately tossing African Christians into the Mediterranean.

African migrants might behave provocatively in South Africa, and they may take advantage of a failed state in Libya, exasperating policy-makers in the south and north of the continent. Whether it is in North Africa or South Africa, the predicament of the migrants has emerged as one of the most devastating facets of life in the African continent.

"I dream of the realisation of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent. I dream of our vast deserts, of our forests, of all our great wildernesses," Nelson Mandela once expounded. This week’s events seem to have taken the continent further from realising that dream.

The African talent for muddling through is not going to eradicate the crisis of migration on the continent. Expunging the root causes of the crisis is a long overdue task.


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