Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Xenophobia in South Africa still continues but by sporadic incidents

The high levels of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments in southern Africa can be attributed to a number of challenges that are facing the region.
In South Africa, xenophobic tendencies have continued unabated, albeit in sporadic fashions, and have thus attracted less reportage from the media and government attention continues to be a source of contention especially for those at the receiving end.
Xenophobia is the irrational fear or hatred of people perceived to be foreign. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has defined a kind of xenophobia, termed afrophobia, in the case of the recent animosity and violence enacted upon foreign nationals from other parts of the continent.

In the early ’90s, before the dawn of democracy, there were a number of foreign nationals who immigrated to South Africa in search of better living and this trend has continued to this day. Today according to the Department of Home Affairs, there are over 1.3 million Zimbabweans who live in South Africa, over 32000 Somalis live in South Africa, over 250000 Nigerians and there are also ‘China Cities’ in South Africa. Although these are official numbers, there is a sense that they could be outdated as a number of foreigner gain entry into the country illegally.


Xenophobia is largely a product of misinformation about foreigners from secondary sources including the media, which tends to lead the citizens into believing false information.

In May of 2008, violence began in Alexandra Township, when locals attacked immigrants from other African countries. In weeks following this, the violence spread across the country to other settlements in Gauteng, Durban and Cape Town. Amid mass looting and destruction of foreign owned homes, property and businesses, at least 62 people were killed and 100 000 displaced. In January of 2015, Siphiwe Mahori, a 14-year-old Soweto boy, was allegedly shot and killed by a foreign shop owner for trying to rob the store. This was followed by unrest and violent looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto. Residents of different townships followed suit in targeting foreign business owners.

In April 2015, foreign nationals were targeted in Durban. Two Ethiopians were petrol bombed in Umlazi, which ignited violence in KwaMashu, Pinetown and a Dalton hostel. The violence spread to parts of Johannesburg and a total of eight people were killed and over 2 000 have been displaced.

In May 2008, 62 people were killed in a wave of xenophobic attacks across townships. These are some of the major events and sporadic incidents continue to take place.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), there were almost 310,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the country as of July 2014. By the end of 2015, this number is expected to top 330,000.

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) is responsible for the protection of refugees and upholding policy on the 1998 Refugees Act but have failed in this responsibility. South Africa stands as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention as well as the Organisation of African Unity conventions on refugees. Efforts to protect and assist refugees and asylum- seekers, in particular by providing them with access to health facilities, schools and social services, fall under their main objectives but it seems a bit convenient that refugees and immigrants do not get the necessary support from the government.


There is a need for public information campaigns tackling myths and misconceptions about foreign nationals as well as education on diversity within the school curriculum. Such campaigns should actively promote respect for the integrity of all who reside within the country’s borders and attempt to increase understanding of the root causes of migration. The public needs to be informed and reminded of the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

The lack of effective mechanisms to address the causes of tensions and conflicts delays the ability to make appropriate interventions at community level. There is a need to improve the accountability of perpetrators of xenophobic violence by fast-tracking such cases through the courts.

Researchers have also recommended that the Department of Education must work with Department of Home Affairs and the SAHRC to incorporate issues of migration and xenophobia into the national syllabus.

The government should publicly acknowledge and condemn all threats of xenophobic violence at the highest level of the state as well as at the level of provincial and local government. It should also promote education and awareness campaigns against xenophobia from school level to adult intervention classes.

Lastly, during these sporadic xenophobic flare-ups the government should promote and defend the rights of migrants and refugees, and the media should also play its part in promoting this as well.

AFRIC Editorial Article.

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