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SAHRC calls on Government to act quick on xenophobic tensions


02nd February 2015

Attention: Editors and Reporters

The South African Human Rights Commission (Commission) continues to monitor the sporadic attacks on migrants and the looting of their businesses across the country. The Commission visited some of the communities affected by the attacks and held meetings with stakeholders, including the police.
We remain concerned at the attacks which have all the hallmarks of xenophobia, since only foreigners and their property seem to be targeted, save for the few nationals who were also caught in the cross-fire.

The targeted approach of these attacks on foreign shop owners irresistibly bears xenophobic undertones and only as criminality as it has been suggested in a number of statements by some Government spokespersons. Acknowledging will enable those responsible in dealing with these challenges to do so from a correct perspective.

The attacks which started in Soweto some weeks back, highlight the bigger challenges the country is facing in its attempts in integrating non-nationals into our communities especially in informal settlements. The escalation in the number of non-nationals entering South Africa has posed various challenges and in some instances, human rights violations are reported to be perpetrated against non-nationals.

While the recent wave of attacks and lootings of properties of foreign-nationals are reported to have been sparked by the killing of a young South African, the knock –on effect in the form of retaliations aimed at other foreign nationals who were not part of the killing of the young man became extremely disproportionate and has taken excessive efforts to stop it, and has indeed raised other collateral issues such as, the need to regulate small businesses such as spaza shops-so-called etc.

The Commission has been aware of the simmering tensions between locals and foreigners for sometime from the number of complaints we have received and dealt with. It is for this reason that the Commission convened a workshop in December 2014, alongside the UNHCR and the Johannesburg Municipality to try find ways of ensuring foreigners and locals co-exist in their communities. Report with recommendations and submissions will soon be released for the attention of relevant stakeholders dealing with matters affecting foreign nationals.

In 2008, South Africa experienced unprecedented levels of violence and discrimination against non-nationals, during which more than 60 people were killed and thousands were displaced.
Following on these tragic occurrences that took place during the 2008 violence, several recommendations were made by the Commission and government’s Inter-Ministerial Committee. Its is concerning that most of those recommendations have not been implemented nor acted upon by various government departments.
Due to the inability of some Government Departments to adequately implement and or to act or none at all on the 2008 recommendations, it is irresistible to believe that had they done so the current attacks and lootings of businesses of non-nationals would, to a certain extent have been minimised.

The Commission calls on government to move quickly to address the underlying issues that continues to negatively affect foreign nationals in the manner the country has experienced in the recent weeks.
We believe that dealing with xenophobia would need a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional and collective human rights approach based on basic human rights, in line with our international obligations towards foreign nationals.

We commend the police for their quick and timely intervention that helped to minimize the anarchy that was brewing in our townships, and call on them to further ensure the safety of the non-nationals and their property. We also call on the law enforcements agents to deal expeditiously with those police officials who were reported to have wrongfully participated in the looting of goods belonging to foreign nationals.
The Commission would further like to highlight the fact that foreign nationals who are in the country are, like citizens, entitled to every right in the Bill of Rights, except the right to vote. These include the right to security, to study, to open businesses, and to seek employment, among others.
The Commission is currently engaging all the stakeholders, including organizations representing both foreign and township businesses, to help find long-lasting solution to the current challenges.

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