Specter of xenophobic chaos looming over South Africa again

Tensions between South Africans and foreigners rose again in Pretoria and parts of Johannesburg recently.

Authorities say despite government pleas for peace, damage to property, acts of violence and looting continue to be reported in Pretoria.

The Home Affairs minister spoke out Thursday to respond to reports from the Nigerian government claiming that 116 of its citizens had been killed in South Africa over the past two years.

“I’m not privy to the figures from the Nigerian government and how they collected them. And we haven’t, I don’t think it’s a discussion we want to get into. I think it will turn out very bad. Should we start counting how many South Africans have died in South Africa at the hands of Nigerian nationals? I don’t think that’s going to end up very well, in terms of our good relations, as countries,” said Malusi Gigaba, South African Home Affairs Minister.

More than 136 people have been arrested in relation to tensions between foreigners and locals.

A march, organized by a group called Mamelodi Concerned Residents, was meant to be peaceful, but soon chaos broke out between anti-migrants South African protesters and foreign nationals.

Some South Africans demanded that illegal immigrants be deported immediately. They blamed foreigners for crime, especially the illegal drug trade. They also accused migrants of taking jobs that could be held by South Africans.

“The foreigners who are operating businesses, we need to regulate them so that when they are operating their businesses, their employees must be South Africans strictly,” said a male protester.

The foreign nationals refused to be intimidated.

“We worked so hard for South Africa to be independent. We’re not to be treated like dogs. They’re fighting us. We married their sisters; our sisters are married to them,” said a representative of foreign nationals.

“We just want peace and stability in this country. We are all Africans. We don’t have any grudge for anyone,” said another representative.

Police dispersed the crowds of protesters, expressing worries that the scenes of xenophobic attacks in 2008 might resurface.

Later in the day, protesters handed a memorandum of their grievances to authorities. They maintained that those responsible for the chaos were not part of their group.

“We are not xenophobic. We don’t want any person to be attacked, any foreign national or any person. That’s why we said that the march is to the relevant department, institutions within South Africa that are set up to deal with this way. But the idea is we are in the sense, we South Africans are frustrated, South Africans are angry,” said Makgoka Lekganyane, a Mamelodi resident.

The government has pledged to take action against anyone who commits violent acts. The presidency has also released a statement calling for restraint.

“We also caution those engaging in violent and unlawful acts that the law enforcement agencies of this country will not tolerate such conduct and will act within the confines of the law,” said Khomotso Phahlane, acting Police Commissioner of South Africa.