By Tauhierah Salie
The human rights of foreign nationals in South Africa came under the spotlight during Human Rights day on Monday.
Tensions have arisen following the re-emergence of Operation Dudula, which targeted Daveyton in Ekurhuleni last week. The movement had reportedly begun in Soweto last year and spread to central Johannesburg and Hillbrow.
Comments by head of the Ekurhuleni operation Dennis Molefe, urges SARS and Metro police to intervene and remove foreigners without legal documents, particularly those in scrap yards and sellers of illegal substances.
President Cyril Ramaphosa however issued a stern warning to such groups, labeling them as illegal. He reiterated that vigilantism remains a crime in the country and discrimination should not be perpetuated.
Speaking at a commemoration of Human Rights Day event in the North West on Monday, President Ramaphosa called on South African companies not to employ undocumented foreigners. According to Ramaphosa, doing so has the potential to create conflict with documented citizens.
At the start of March, the South African Human Rights Commission’s Northern Cape office hosted a dialogue on xenophobia; prompted by victimization and assault complaints metered out to foreign nationals. The dialogue emphasized the international and national obligations of South Africa to protect and assist non-South African citizens.
In 2019, a group of refugees occupied the Central Methodist Church in Cape Town in a bid to be repatriated or relocated, rejecting re-integration options due to ongoing harassment within the Cape Town communities they had lived in.
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Concerns of discrimination have also come to the fore, as foreign nationals claim that their legal status – or lack thereof – is a result of system failures. At the time, the refugees highlighted similar issues with Home Affairs, where attaining documentation proved to be an immense challenge. They also cite challenges with education, employment and other basic services.
Social change organisation Heartlines SA’s Andile Maphosa believes however that the country has far better laws than most African countries:
“When you look at a lot of the people who left their countries and came into South Africa; it should let you know that there’s an environment here that is a bit more supportive than where they come from. Despite all the problems in the country, we must acknowledge that there is a better track record of human rights in South Africa than in the many countries where foreign nationals come from.”
Maphosa suggested that leaders work to ensure the rights of foreign nationals are upheld:
“The first thing that need to be done is that leaders need to stop stoking the fires and the embers of xenophobic statements. They come about as problematic, especially when your leaders are the ones using foreign nationals as a scapegoat to all the problems in the country. After that, I think policing needs to be fairer and more equitable, they also prey on foreign nationals in certain areas and that’s been a problem,” he added.