Black against black in South Africa

The Xenophobia turmoil in South Africa in recent weeks has cost at least 7 people their lives, as well as one child. There are black immigrants from other African countries which are under attack, harassed, discarded, beaten and killed. Homes of immigrants and immigrant shops have been vandalized and robbed. In Umlazi south-west of Durban, the biggest township in KwaZulu-Natal and the second biggest in South Africa after Soweto, a shop was petrol bombed with two Ethiopians inside on April 10. One of them died shortly after arriving in hospital.


Photographs of Mozambican national Emmanuel Sithole being attacked while pleading for his life were published in the Sunday Times on April 20, and sparked a nationwide reaction. The man stabbing Sithole is among those arrested.

More than 300 people have been detained by police. Domestic and Asians have so far not been targeted, with an exception of one episode on Friday where two South Africans tried to break into a Pakistani owned shop in Soweto. The two culprits were rescued by the police after they were apprehended by local residents. They had already been doused with petrol when they were rescued, according to the South African Times Live. Another brutally murder took place early Sunday morning. A man from Mozambique were harassed and stabbed in broad daylight with witnesses around, including a photographer from the Sunday Times. Three have been arrested and will be taken to court already on Tuesday 21. The police is chasing a fourth culprit.

The worst unrest have been in Isiphingo, a suburb just south of Durban, where now about 7,000 immigrants have sought refuge in official and police controlled areas. The turmoil has spread further to Soweto and Johannesburg. Durban, Johannesburg and Soweto is respectively 2nd, 3rd and 4th largest city in South Africa, after Cape Town. Durban is a popular tourist city on South Africa’s west coast by the Indian Ocean and is traditionally KwaZulu-Natal area.

More than thousand African immigrants have fled their homes in black townships around the eastern port city of Durban since xenophobic attacks and looting erupted.

In a bid to try to quell the anti-immigrant violence, soldiers were Tuesday 21th deployed to volatile areas in Johannesburg and in KwaZulu-Natal.

This is the largest anti-immigration turmoil in South Africa since 2008, when 62 people were killed and hundreds injured during the little more than two weeks unrest. One person from Mozambique were also burned alive. The case was dismissed in 2010, although a witness has been able to point out two of the perpetrators for the Times Live. The witness says that police never came back to the crime scene for questioning and investigation. One of the designated still stays in the same area. The investigation is summarized on one page only.

The riots started after KwaZulu-Natal King Goodwill Zwelithini on March 23 held a very controversial speech that has been reported to the South African National Defence Union as a violation of the rights to dignity, security, life, movement and residence, which are grounded in the Bill of Rights. The South African Human Rights Commission is now probing the Zulu kings utterances as hate speech.

After an introduction where the king explains that he can not wait for politicians to speak out for their concerns about votes, he took strong advocate against illegal immigrants.

“(…) we talk about people who do not want to listen, who do not want to work,  who are thieves, child rapists and housebreakers. People who are lazy and do not want to plough the fields. When people look at them, they will say let us exploit the nation of idiots. As I speak, you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops, they dirty our streets. We can not even recognize which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere. (…) We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.”

President Jacob Zuma shares a light moment with King Goodwill Zwelithini, who is South Africa’s richest tribal leader. (

President Jacob Zuma shares a light moment with King Goodwill Zwelithini, who is South Africa’s richest tribal leader. (

At first the Zulu king tried to refute allegations that he had spoken critically about immigration until his speech was published and transcribed by media. After much pressure he held a new speech on the famous Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Monday 20 April. The stadium is named after the politician and former secretary general of the South African Communist Party and is a landmark in Durban. In this speech, he referred to the violence as vile and defended himself against accusations of his previous comments had led to these actions. “We need to make sure no more foreigners are attacked. We must stop these vile acts” said Zwelithini in his speech to thousands of supporters. Nevertheless hostile parts of the audience sang songs calling for immigrants to leave the country and the booed an earlier speaker who said foreigners had the right to live in South Africa.

Last week 5,000 people rallied in Durban to protest against xenophobia. Among the slogans were “Down with Xenophobia” and “A united Africa“, whilst there were confrontations between police and Xenophobe’s elsewhere in the city. There have also been several confrontations between police and Xenophobe’s  elsewhere in the country, not at least in Johannesburg. Police have used water cannons, shock grenades and rubber bullets to scatter the mob.

The controversy around the Cecil Rhodes statue in Cape Town is also considered to have fueled the riots. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had his first official visit to South Africa in twenty years on the 8th of April where he held a 45 minutes long non-scripted speech, not the planned 10 minutes which was allotted to him and South African President Jacob Zuma. Besides accusing the West of having killed Libyan Muammar Ghadaffi and Iraq Saddam Hussein solely to gain access to more oil, he referred duly to the Cecil Rhodes statue in Cape Town. The bronze statue was torn down the day after the speech, after a month of protests by city students. Opposition Party EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) has taken the blame for several of the vandalizing of the Rhodes sculptures in both Cape Town and Pretoria.

Mugabe was elected as chairman of the African Union (AU) January this year, where he immediately focused on climate change, Ebola and improved infrastructure, beside clearly saying that African wealth belongs to Africa and not “imperialists and colonialists.” He has in crass terms condemned these “anti-African” tendencies after the riots spread in South Africa, with reference to how Zimbabwe was an important supporter of South Africans during the apartheid era.

President Zuma condemned the unrest in the country in a speech in Parliament last Thursday. Some would say he spent a long time to make such a condemnation, especially since his eldest son Edward immediately (in March) gave his full support to the Zulu king’s initiative in an interview with News24. “We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb that them [foreigners] taking over the country.”

The reason why I am saying that is because some of the foreigners are working for private security companies where they have been employed for cheap labour. These companies are running away from complying with South African labour laws,” Edward continued. “Foreigners need to leave the country.” He also accused foreigners fuelling South Africas drug problems and that foreigners bring with them weapons. Unlike King Goodwill Zwelithini, he included also white and Asians.

President Jacob Zuma is Zulu himself and the ANC’s close connection and support from the always leopard cladded Zulu king is no secret and is often noted.
Although extreme poverty ($ 1.25 pr. Day) is now down to just over 20%, it constitutes around 12 million people of the populous South Africa . Relative poverty constitutes approximately 45%. Unemployment is at 24%. Immigrants are estimate to be 2 million says official figures, while other estimates says 5 million. It is also estimated that nearly 1 million of these are economic and political refugees from Zimbabwe. Only 4% of workers in South Africa are foreigners and in most cases they contribute to the economy with the rental of premises, adding taxes and employment of local South Africans. Foreigners who operates businesses employ more South Africans than South African businesses, according to a study of Migrating for Work Research Consortium based on data from Statistics South Africa.

Although much of the anger among many black South Africans still are directed against whites and their control over great wealth and lands, are remarks and reflections corresponding to Edward Zuma’s not entirely uncommon in South Africa today, although condemnations of last week violence has been massive, not at least on social media.

Concerning crime and foreigners, it is myths that are spread. According to Statistics South Africa’s National Victims of Crime Survey’s study released in 2014, immigrants are only responsible for 5% of crime.

South Africa is the richest country in Africa, only beaten by Nigeria (Nigeria has approximately 152 million inhabitants while South Africa with is 20% bigger land, host 54 million people.) South Africa is strongly affected by corruption. At least ZAR 700 billion (equivalent to $58 billions) has gone to corruption over the past 20 years, according to figures published April 15th this year by the Institute of Internal Auditors (ZAR = South African Rand). In addition there are repeatedly huge economical scandals. Zuma is the world’s 4th highest paid president and his cabinet costs annually ZAR 1.6 billion ($132 millions).

The various welfare schemes has increased from around ZAR 4 million in 1994 to 16.3 million in 2014, though discussed as unsustainable, even by President Zuma. Less than  three million people receive any social security in South Africa which include 1.1 million pensioners, with the exception of child support received by 11.5 million. This stands in stark contrast to the president’s resident Nklandas upgrade in 2010 that was stipulated to cost ZAR 145 million, but ended up with a price tag of 100 million more.

The riots are directed against immigrants, but it is reasonable to assume that the overall economic situation is the real causative factor. Criminologist Johan Burger from the renowned think tank Institute for Security Studies (frequently used among others by the EU and Norwegian foreign department) also believe that the spread of the unrest suggest that it is not just spontaneous. “The attacks being sustained and spreading into more urbanised areas creates a suspicion that it is being organised.

— Ole A. Seifert