In March 2015, violent attacks against foreigners erupted throughout South Africa, killing at
least seven people, and setting off panic amongst the country’s 2 million immigrants.
Following the xenophobic attacks, many nations* have called on their citizens to leave South
Africa for their own safety. Violence against immigrants has seen a sharp rise in years
since apartheid in South Africa. So we wanted to know, why are South Africans killing foreigners?
Well, for decades, South Africa has been a hotbed of xenophobia. In May of 2008 alone,
anti-foreigner riots left more than 60 dead. According to a study by the Southern African
Migration Project, South Africa is the most xenophobic country in the Southern African
Development Community. The study points to the 1994 post-apartheid movement by the ruling
African National Congress as a big reason for the animosity. A number of national programs
designed to bring the community together had the unintended side effect of excluding outsiders,
and bred a sense of long-standing social resentment amongst citizens towards immigrants. This
is evidenced by the fact that South African xenophobia comes from every strata of society:
rich and poor, employed and unemployed, black and white, and so on.
The most recent attacks have been blamed on the comments of the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini,
who announced that “foreigners should pack their bags and go”. This condemnation set
off violence shortly thereafter in the port city of Durban. However, the UN has pointed
to a labor dispute between locals and foreigners back in March as the primary catalyst for
the most recent wave of attacks.
One of the biggest complaints from South Africans is that immigrants are, quote, “stealing
their jobs”. In a country with a 25% unemployment rate, along with an extremely high crime rate,
immigrants are an easy target for local frustrations. One study found that amongst police officers,
87% believed that many of the country’s undocumented immigrants were criminals, despite
no statistics supporting that accusation.
Despite the end of apartheid, South Africa still faces many divisive challenges. While
the African National Congress has been urging residents to stop the violence, it seems that
until unemployment, crime, and social attitudes change, the problem is likely to be ongoing.
Xenophobia and nationalism in the form of neo-Nazism is also on the rise in Europe.
To learn about the frightening issue in detail, check out our video here. Don’t forget to
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