Xenophobic attacks in South Africa have spurred immigrants to flee the country. Several have been killed, businesses have been stripped and their property destroyed. Many of them are small shopkeepers or street vendors.
Somalis, Ethiopians, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Malawis… all were drawn here by the promise of a country with egalitarian principles and the continent’s most advanced economy. But many no longer dare to stay.
Malawi immigrant Sackinah Mohamed said: “I am not happy going back home, it is because I came here in South Africa to look for something, for my needs and to help other people, like my parents and my daughter so that they can survive.”
Many of these immigrants came here fearing they would be killed in their countries of origin.
Kirirwa Buloze, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, said: “I used to think that South Africa is a good country, because in our country there is war. We cannot say we want to go back home because even today there is war, they are killing people, and now I think South Africa is a bad country because they are killing us for no reason.”
In Johannesburg, Zulus sing war songs. Foreigners are increasingly accused of taking work from South Africans. The official unemployment rate is 25%. With the wealth gap a constant source of anger, the weakest are blamed.
South Africa has a population of 50 million, including nine million Zulus. Although data vary, some estimates place the foreign population at 1.7 million, others higher.
Violence erupted three weeks ago in Durban, in the heart of Zulu territory.
King Goodwill Zwelithini, at the end of March, called on foreigners to leave; “pack their bags,” he said. Zwelithini is the most influential of the Zulu tribal monarchs, who are recognised under the South African constitution.
On April 20th, he condemned the attacks on foreigners, saying his words had been taken out of context.
Zwelithini said: “If these reports about me calling for war were true, then this country would be in ashes!”
In similar flare-ups in 2008, 67 foreigners were killed. To prevent that happening again, President Jacob Zuma, himself a Zulu, called off an official visit to Indonesia and tried to calm things down.
At an immigrant camp on 18th April, Zuma condemned the attacks against foreigners, but it was two weeks and four deaths after the surge in xenophobia.
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