The Times, 17 June 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the The Times for permission

Immigrants will not be safe to return to the communities they fled in the wake of xenophobic violence, because the locals are still “angry.” And they will be until the government deals with the root causes of the violence. A report released by the Human Sciences Research Council in Johannesburg yesterday examined the xenophobic violence, which left 62 people dead and thousands of immigrants displaced and fleeing back to their home countries. The report was based on interviews with residents of townships where refugees were attacked, including Mamelodi, Alexandra and Tembisa. They say the violence was fuelled by frustrations about the pace of service delivery by the government when it came to housing, poor border control and immigrant influx. The report says South Africans’ resistance to foreigners is not new, citing survey findings indicating increased sentiment in favour of barring foreigners. In 2007, 47 percent of South Africans living in urban informal settlements said they did not welcome foreigners, a significant increase from the 33 percent in 2003. The HSRC said it appeared ordinary South African citizens would like to have their views on how to deal with the influx of foreigners into the country seriously considered. It said a national debate should be held on migration policy, and said it was critical for discussions to take place at grassroots level. “One of the most important triggers of the violence was the occupation of national housing stock by non-South Africans. We call on government to conduct a national audit on RDP houses and ensure that only South Africans occupy them,” said Adrian Hadland, director of the HSRC’s democracy and governance programme. He said its key recommendations to government included: A national summit on foreign nationals; Auditing RDP housing in order to create policies on occupation, sale and rental; Tighter border controls, while allowing an amnesty period during which illegal immigrants can apply for legal documents and residency; and A proposed minimum wage for casual labour, particularly in the construction and domestic work sector. Hadland said such proposed national summits could act as a pressure valve for the marginalised, and make their voices heard. “Violence has become an acceptable and successful way for marginalised people to voice their grievances while they feel ignored by government,” he said. Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya, who accepted the report on behalf of the government, said the violence was an embarrassment to the government, the ANC and all South Africans. “We work in educating the masses about the help we received from African countries during the apartheid era,” he said.