A new report has found that the government has done ‘very little’ to combat xenophobic attacks against African and Asian foreigners living in South Africa.
“Despite the March 2019 adoption of a government action plan to combat xenophobia, the government has done very little to ensure that attacks by members of the public, the police, and government officials are investigated and that those responsible are held accountable,” Human Rights Watch said in a report, video, and Witness article released on Thursday
The 64-page report, “They Have Robbed Me of My Life’: Xenophobic Violence Against Non-Nationals in South Africa,” details xenophobic incidents in the year after the government adopted the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Human Rights Watch documented killings, serious injuries, forced displacement, discrimination, and barriers to justice and basic services.
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The problems include indifference, denial and tacit approval of xenophobic actions by government and law enforcement authorities, barriers to legal representation, and difficulty in acquiring and renewing documents to maintain legal status and to access services including education and health care.
“Non-South African nationals have suffered wave after wave of xenophobic violence and live in constant fear of being targeted solely for not being South African,” said Kristi Ueda, Africa division fellow at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The South African government should hold those responsible accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Impunity only emboldens others and perpetuates xenophobia.”
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 51 people – including 2 children, ages 10 and 11 – who live in Western Cape, Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal provinces and reviewed media reports and South African laws, regulations, and decisions.
The rights group has long documented xenophobic harassment and attacks in South Africa.
“Launching the National Action Plan was a positive step, but clearly more urgent, concrete measures are needed, particularly to end violence, police harassment, and impunity,” Ueda said. “Protecting non-nationals from further attacks and ending impunity for xenophobic violence requires a long-term strategy and not just words on paper.”
According to Human Rights Watch, foreigners in South Africa are “scapegoated and blamed for economic insecurity, crimes, and government failures to deliver services and have been targets of nationwide protests and shutdowns characterized by mob violence, looting, and torching of their businesses.”
In early September 2019, mobs wielding weapons and chanting anti-foreigner slogans attacked and forcibly displaced non-nationals, destroying thousands of their businesses and homes. None of those interviewed has yet to recover financially or achieve justice.
South African government and law enforcement authorities have repeatedly claimed that these waves of violence were purely criminal and not motivated by xenophobia.
However, Human Rights Watch found that law enforcement officials have operated in discriminatory and abusive ways against non-nationals.
“Raids to crack down on counterfeit goods have targeted foreign-run businesses. During the raids, police have shot rubber bullets into crowds of people then ransacked and destroyed foreigners’ shops. In coordination with the Department of Home Affairs, the police have conducted abusive documentation raids in areas known to have many non-nationals,” the rights group said.