South Africa: Looking for answers to xenopobia's rise
|Publisher||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)|
|Publication Date||11 June 2008|
|Cite as||Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), South Africa: Looking for answers to xenopobia's rise, 11 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48522c0d2c.html [accessed 25 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
MAPUTO, 11 June 2008 (IRIN) - Xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa is generating a good deal of soul searching in a region that has shared much history, culture and strong informal economic ties - as well as hardships.
"Migration in southern Africa is a fact of our lives. I can say this is a part of our culture before colonialism, apartheid and after colonialism. We have to live with migration. There's no way we are going to stop the migration," Graca Machel, activist and wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, said at a regional conference on xenophobia this week in the Mozambican capital of Maputo.
But Machel added a rider to her address at the gathering of civil society organisations that "Without solving the problem in Zimbabwe we won't solve this problem of xenophobia in the region."
Zimbabwe's economic meltdown and human rights crisis has added a new dimension to the scale of intra-regional migrations.
An estimated three million Zimbabweans - a quarter of the population - have left the country looking for work, most are drawn to neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.
After eight years of recession, Zimbabweans struggle with shortages across the board, from food to fuel; inflation is unofficially estimated at 1 million percent, and the 2008 maize harvest is forecast to fall short by about 1 million tonnes.
When xenophobic violence flared in May 2008 in South Africa's working class districts, the mobs blamed foreign nationals for "stealing jobs and women", cheating social services, and driving the dizzying crime rate. At least 60 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in the attacks.
As many as 36,000 Mozambicans have returned home from South Africa since the violence erupted, but for many Zimbabweans affected by the violence, they have, it is believed, sought refuge in Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, rather than their home country.
Joy Mabenge, director of the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, a local non-governmental organisation, told IRIN: "Psychologically, not everyone who has been victimised in South Africa is in a position to go home for two main reasons. First, economically they cannot survive there, and secondly there is political violence [in Zimbabwe] that has already internally displaced more than 30,000 families."
Old migration routes
South Africa's labour intensive mining industry, dating back more than 150 years, has relied on migrant labour from modern-day Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe since diamonds were found in Kimberley and gold discovered on the Witwatersrand.
The end of apartheid in 1994 and the dawn of democracy, "produced new opportunities for internal and cross-border mobility and new incentives for moving. The ensuing integration of South Africa with the [Southern Africa Development Community] SADC region brought a major increase in legal and undocumented cross-border flows", noted a 2005 paper prepared by South African academics for the Global Commission on International Migration.
Zimbabwe's post-independence agro-based economy also attracted cheap labour from neighbouring Malawi, and traders from Zambia and further a field for its manufactured goods. In the 1990s the country also sheltered large numbers of refugees from Mozambique's 16-year civil war.
Zimbabwe and its leader President Robert Mugabe was among the driving forces behind the Frontline States - the collection of southern African countries opposed to apartheid South Africa - which transformed into SADC in 1992 with the goal of regional integration.
That lofty ideal seems a little hollow after the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, which lasted two weeks and affected seven out of the country's nine provinces.
Fear of foreign nationals
Fear of foreigners is largely driven by perceptions, said Jean Pierre Misago from the Migration Studies Institute of South Africa's University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
"We don't agree that crime, jobs and women are behind the xenophobia [in South Africa]. There's evidence that foreigners actually create more jobs. We also have data that shows that the percentage of immigrants arrested for crime in South Africa is very low compared to locals," he told IRIN
Manuel de Araujo, an MP for Maganja da Costa district in Mozambique's northern Zambezi province said the violence in South Africa pointed not only to the failure of liberal economic policies, but also the region's inability to effectively deal with migration and integration.
"Today it is South Africa. Yesterday it was Mozambicans in Zimbabwe, and tomorrow it will be another country. Over the weekend I was in Chinoi, the main town in [central] Manica Province, and the local community there are already starting to complain about the influx of Zimbabweans," said de Araujo, who is also deputy chair of the parliament's international relations commission.