Last Updated: Wednesday, 01 June 2016, 07:42 GMT

South Africa: African governments begin repatriating their nationals

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 22 May 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), South Africa: African governments begin repatriating their nationals, 22 May 2008, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

JOHANNESBURG, 22 May 2008 (IRIN) - The governments of Mozambique and Zimbabwe have begun the "voluntary repatriation" of their citizens, in the wake of ongoing xenophobic violence in South Africa that police say has claimed 42 lives, displaced more than 16,000 people and led to 400 arrests.

The violence, which has seen some foreign nationals necklaced - a throwback to a horrific practice used during the apartheid era, when suspected police informants were killed by placing a burning tyre around their necks - has spread throughout Gauteng and into other provinces since it first broke out in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra 12 days ago.

Johannesburg's mayor, Amos Masondo, has invited all foreign diplomatic missions to a meeting on 23 May, "to discuss xenophobic attitudes in Johannesburg", a spokesperson for the Mozambican consulate told IRIN.

"Plus or minus 10 buses left yesterday [21 May] and there are about 10 buses leaving today for Mozambique. We are doing our best to take our people home," the spokesperson said. About 1,200 people have been repatriated by the Mozambique government and many other Mozambique nationals were making their own way home.

The Mozambican daily newspaper, Noticias, reported that about 10,000 Mozambique nationals had fled South Africa since the violence began, but this did not include those without legal travel documents, which was thought would add thousands more to the number.

The consular spokesperson said the Mozambique government would provide transport for as long as there was a demand, as "it is not just illegal immigrants that are being attacked, even those who are legally here [in South Africa] are being attacked."

Chris Mapanga, of the Zimbabwean consulate in Johannesburg, said his government was "organising voluntary repatriations and the work is in progress. We are at a very advanced stage." He declined to reveal the numbers of those requesting repatriation or when the repatriations would begin, and what type of transport would be used.

"It is not like an instant lightning strike. Xenophobia starts at 1 p.m. and then the buses [for those wanting to be repatriated] leave at 1.30 p.m.," he told IRIN.

Mapanga said research indicated that there were about 800,000 to one million Zimbabweans in South Africa; other estimates have put the number of people who have fled the eight-year recession at more than three million. Annual inflation in Zimbabwe is unofficially estimated at 1,000,000 percent, with severe shortages of food, fuel and energy.

Widespread reports of violence ahead of Zimbabwe's second presidential poll on 27 June - scheduled after neither President Robert Mugabe, of the ZANU-PF party, nor opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai achieved the required 50 percent plus one vote majority - is also believed to have increased undocumented migration to South Africa.

The 29 March poll saw the ruling ZANU-PF party lose control of parliament for the first time since winning independence from Britain in 1980.

Xenophobic violence spreads

Outside the epicentre of xenophobic violence in Gauteng Province, in the last few days reports of further mayhem have come from KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Mpumalanga provinces. The government has announced that army resources would be available to police to try and end the violence.

Opposition parties in the South African parliament welcomed the decision, but criticised President Thabo Mbeki's slow response. Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Ian Davidson said in a parliamentary debate on 22 May that the government had only agreed to deploy the army after 42 people had died, when his party had made such calls after the deaths of 12 people.

Xenophobia in South Africa was expected to be discussed during the seventh Nigeria/South Africa Bi-national Commission in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
Kingsley Mamabolo, head of the South African delegation to Abuja, reportedly said: "Of course, there will explanations and discussions about it [xenophobia], and the commission will have to find the best possible way to address the problem."

The News Agency of Nigeria has reported that dozens of Nigerian-owned shops have been attacked in Johannesburg, while a Nigerian-owned tavern in the Durban township of Umbilo was attacked by a mob.

A few weeks before the xenophobic violence erupted, Nigerian authorities voiced concern their nationals were being targeted by criminals after arriving at Johannesburg's international airport.

South Africa's shame

The violence has been condemned by the government, trade unions, church and community organisations, as well as individuals on local radio talk shows.

Imtiaz Sooliman, chair of Gift of the Givers, a South African humanitarian organisation, reportedly said an appeal for assistance had generated an overwhelming response, comparable to donations after the 2004 Asian tsunami, which killed 220,000 people. "People are saying they are ashamed of what is happening to South Africa," he said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has begun distributing 2,000 "dignity packs", containing basic sanitary and nutritional items, mats and blankets to meet the immediate needs of displaced people.

The IOM has also joined forces with Metro FM, one of South Africa's largest commercial radio stations, to launch a campaign to "educate the public about foreigners' and locals' rights and responsibilities, in a bid to forestall more attacks and to pave the way for reconciliation and integration," the IOM said in a statement.

Chief Justice Pius Langa told local media: "It is abundantly clear that if we, as South Africans, fail to take immediate and effective action to these attacks we are heading for a bleak future indeed."


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