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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

Fire[Report by South African Monitor.]

The South African Police Service (SAPS) are maintaining a strong presence in the eastern coastal city Port Elizabeth in reaction to a spate of attacks on shops owned by foreign nationals.  It is the second time this year that foreign shopkeepers have been subjected to looting, arson and evacuation here.

The attacks started after a Somali shopkeeper was arrested on 14 September 2013 for allegedly killing a man.  All charges against him have since been provisionally withdrawn.  Initially shops were looted and vehicles set alight.  The police had to escort foreign shopkeepers to areas of safety and called in reinforcements.

The violence spread to more neighbourhoods and businesses of Somali and Chinese nationals were destroyed.

Despite the escalation of violence and the evacuation specifically of foreign nationals, the South African government insists that the incidents are not “strictly xenophobic in nature”.  The local MEC and municipality condemned the looting but refrained from any statement mentioning xenophobia.  Even though common criminals obviously will use incidents such as these for personal gain, the past week’s events cannot be dismissed as being mere crimes either.

 

The haunting scenes of foreign nationals being set alight alive in South African streets in 2008 have not been forgotten.  Despite assurances by the government that the issue would receive priority attention, xenophobic-related events continue taking place as often as two to three times a week all over the country.

 

The government’s reluctance to display strong political leadership and confront incidents of intolerance towards minority communities (such as foreign nationals) head on, is creating the dangerous perception that the denial of the human rights of certain communities will be condoned.

 

On 28 August 2013, protesters at a concert at the University of the Witwatersrand sang “Kill the Jew”.  This display of anti-Semitism was ignored by the authorities.

 

In 2010 the ruling party of South Africa, the ANC, had to be taken to court before admitting that similar chants of “Shoot the farmer” could be hurtful.  A South African farmer currently is two times more likely to be killed than a policeman.  Under such circumstances the fact that legal action was required to put an end to such utterances at all, seems absurd.

 

The authorities cannot be allowed to ignore any display of this nature, otherwise a climate will be perpetuated within which intolerance and violence will simmer until reaching life-threatening levels.  In Port Elizabeth, fleeing foreign nationals already bear witness to the effects of such deadly silence.

South Africa at a Glance
56 500 000 (mid 2017 estimate)
5.1% y/y in September 2017 (CPI) & +4.2% y/y in August 2017 (PPI)
2.5% q/q for the 2nd quarter of 2017
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