Xenophobia brews in Alexandra
By Hassan Isilow
Foreigners in Alexandra Township, north of Johannesburg, are living on tenterhooks after unknown locals distributed pamphlets warning those illegally living in RDP houses meant for South Africans to vacate. By Tuesday evening some foreign traders operating businesses in the area said they were planning to close their businesses for fear of being looted.
“I witnessed the 2008 violent anti-foreign attacks, where locals looted all goods in my shop. So I can’t take another risk,” Abu-Bakr Suleiman said, adding that whenever there was service delivery protests, residents took advantage by looting shops belonging to foreign traders, whom they consider as soft targets.
Police Warrant Officer Kay Makhubela confirmed that some residents were delivering pamphlets to foreign nationals living in RDP houses. A copy of the pamphlet shown to me warns foreigners living in the low cost houses meant for nationals to vacate within seven days or face the consequences. “If they don’t leave the RDP houses by next Tuesday, we shall burn them alive,” a man who only identified himself as Sipho warned.
Another resident of Alex said he has been waiting for an RDP house for the past nine years without success. “I can not allow a foreign national to live in a RDP house while I’m still in a shark. It’s unfair,” he stated. The 2008 xenophobic attacks first started in Alexandra township, later spreading to other parts of the country.
Engineer Geoffrey Murefu a foreign national from Uganda believes it’s wrong for foreign nationals to occupy RDP houses while the locals are homeless. “I think foreigners who are living or doing business in RDP houses are violating the rights of the citizens,” he said.
Ivo Vegter of the Daily Maverick newspaper writes in one of his articles that the problem that causes xenophobia is when citizens believe foreigners partake of services and opportunities to which citizens themselves are entitled. According to Vegter when citizens feel hard done because their government is failing to deliver social services, they get angry. And it is easy for them to deflect their anger by making foreigners the scapegoats.
Vegter also believes, politicians contribute to xenophobia instead of leading communities away from hatred and violence. “There is little doubt that local politicians in South Africa are implicated in whipping up the mobs.” He believes for government to eradicate xenophobia, they should address the economic problems that cause it, such as Lack of service delivery among others.
Gabriel Hertz, secretary general of the Migrant Board said he was still evaluating the situation before issuing an official comment.