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Foreigners feel leaders are “adding fuel” to Xenophobic narrative in SA

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By Tauhierah Salie

Following days of unrest in several parts of Gauteng amid tension between South Africans and foreign nationals, VOC spoke to chairperson of the Somali Board of South Africa, who said the chaos is unnecessary and detrimental to the country.

Several parts of the province including the Johannesburg CBD, Ekurhuleni and Pretoria have been gripped by violence since Sunday. Widespread looting of foreign-owned businesses and violent attacks on their owners has seen scenes of anarchy play out in the streets. There has also been clashes with police which saw at least 189 arrests. The violence has also claimed at least five lives, with many condemning the extent of violence.

While the bone of contention among South Africans was that foreign nationals were stealing their businesses and are the root cause of drug peddling in their province, the foreigners have maintained that they are not solely responsible for these social ills.

In August, Gauteng Premier David Makhura had roped police in on a crackdown on counterfeit goods in the province, which he felt were destroying the economy. Of particular concern to Makhura was the Johannesburg central business district.

Although the raids were initially carried out without interference, a raid on Thursday 1 August became a volatile as group of foreign nationals were seen on video pelting JMPD officers with stones and other objects.

At the time, JMPD spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said the operation had focused on an area identified as being problematic.

“We recovered R15m worth of counterfeit clothing. We also arrested a suspect for being in possession of a stolen cellphone. Officers also recovered five MTN tower back-up batteries.”

Five vehicles containing counterfeit goods were confiscated and several firearms, including automatic rifles, pistols and handguns, were also seized.

A week later, another raid was conducted were around 1 500 officers accompanied Makhura and National Police Minister Bheki Cele to the same area.

An estimated 600 foreign nationals were detained, alongside seven police officers who were arrested on charges of corruption and defeating the ends of justice. This after they were allegedly caught trying to sell confiscated goods back to illegal traders.

The seven also faced further charges which included extortion and theft, after they allegedly tipped off business owners about the impeding raid.

Crackdown on counterfeit goods 

According to the chairperson of the Somali Board of South Africa, Amir Sheik, the xenophobia stems from misguided leadership.

“In most of the townships what we actually experience is attacks on migrants. That are maybe due to the high crime rate in the townships, high unemployment among youth. But this has everything to   do with reckless, rudimentary, irresponsible sentiment made by the leaders of Gauteng. Such as the Premier of Gauteng David Makhura and the minister of police Herman Mashaba, who is executive mayor.”

Sheikh comments echoed the sentiment of many organisations who had criticized the crackdown for targeting migrants. But Makhura is quoted as saying that although South Africa is welcoming, “we need to ensure there is proper documentation for everybody.”

The spokesperson went on to explain that the “crackdown” exceeded simply trying to deal with fake goods.

“For the past decade and a half, migrants who were trading in the CBD were under constant intimidation, interference and harassment from the law enforcement officers. And now it’s flared almost all over Gauteng. The underlying issue is the eradication of counterfeit goods (which happened a month ago) but it is actually far higher than that.”

Presently, media coverage has painted both migrant and South African vendors as perpetrating violence against each other, with police having to act as a buffer at times, while forcibly stepping in at others.

“Majority are locals or the criminal elements that we have engaged with, and who say they are doing what they’re doing in retaliation of what business owners in the CBD have done a month ago- which is hogwash. Non-existent.  It’s just an act of criminality,” said Sheik, when describing the violence perpetrated against migrants.

“The truth of the matter is that the situation remains tense and volatile and nothing much has been done in terms of the law enforcement perspective. The political leadership is still there. For the last few days most of the businesses belonging to the migrant population has been closed, or trading but with limited stock. To be sincere, it’s very sad. I think   an induction was needed to contain the situation before it became viral and the whole country felt similar to how it felt in 2008,” said Sheik.

Sheikh was referring to mass xenophobic attacks which took place in May 2008, which saw international organisation Human Rights Watch, demand urgent government intervention. The resultant violence claimed 44 lives, displaced 20,000 people, an undocumented number were robbed of their property and hundreds more injured. Police arrested more than 500 people on charges of public violence, malicious damage to property, and grievous bodily harm.

Communication without collaboration

Makhura also noted that a contributor to the province- and the country’s- increased criminal activity; was the poor border controls and ports, coupled with an over-burdened Department of Home Affairs.

The foreign representative explained that the migrants are being unfairly discriminated against as South Africans are also responsible for the sale of fake goods.

 “The truth is something I cannot deny. Yes, counterfeit good are sold in the CBD and it is not only sold by foreign persons but also sold by South Africans. Rather than attacking, (those that) do not manufacture the goods themselves. Most of it comes from China.”

“They actually pass our ports of entries and nothing much is being done. If it’s supposed to be contained, it’s supposed to be contained as a port of entry into South Africa. The source is known, the port of entry is known. But those being victimized are the ones saying, “I’m not denying that counterfeit goods (are) sold in Johannesburg”. Same as drugs, that are sold like peanuts in the streets.”

Previous attempts at engaging with those in power have not resulted in any positive outcome.

“The engagements have always been there. We have engagements with political leaders in municipal, provincial and national level. But the sad part is that, in all three tiers of government the reaction from these leaders is adding fuel to this. If they were responsible, this would not have happened. The engagements are there but have not yield much results.”

Regarding the shops that were targeted, Sheik noted that the informal sector is a major contributor to Johannesburg’s economy.

“We are talking about medium or large enterprises that are registered. That are having VAT, paying taxes. The reality is the economic gain by the city of Johannesburg generates more than R1bn of income which also goes to the GDP of the country. That’s a huge income for the city.”


Several African presidents also announced the cancelled  of their participation in the World Economic Forum (WEF) taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in Cape Town on Wednesday. Rwandan President, Paul Kagame,  President of Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, Malawian President, Peter Mutharika pulled out.

Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, also announced their country’s withdrawal. This after president Muhammadu Buhari sent a special envoy to President Cyril Ramaphosa to relay his governments concerns over the attacks.

American musician of Nigerian origin, Jidenna,  took to Twitter to react having said that violence and unrest in South Africa are a direct result of the damage apartheid has done.

“Just left Lagos this morning after speaking at a listening party about xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. This apartheid trauma is rampant, cancerous and volatile. My heart is heavy,” she said.


South African rapper,  Sho Madjozi, also expressed that the country needs proper leadership.

Nigerian superstar, Tiwa Savage, also publicly announced that she will no longer be performing at the upcoming DStv Delicious Festival. The festival is scheduled for Saturday, 21 September at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in Gauteng.

In protest of the violence, Zambia also cancelled an international friendly football match between Bafana Bafana Bafana Bafana in Lusaka on Saturday. Football Association of Zambia secretary general, Adrian Kashala, said the withdrawal is due to security concerns and uncertainty around the safety of their players. Reports indicate that Botswana also withdrew.

President Cyril Ramaphosa further condemned the attacks and vowed to work closely with the police and ministers in the security cluster to bring an end to the widespread violence seen this week.

“There can be no justification, whatsoever, about what people are having a grievance over, that they should go out and attack people from other countries,” the president exclaimed.

Sheikh emphasized that the break down in partnerships is detrimental, given South Africa’s economic state.

“The way things are going is not good for the country or the economy. The worst part being that South Africa was in isolation for many years and they cannot afford it, to also be seen as a country that wants isolation.”

“We do not need this.  We need one another. We have hugely invested into this country and all we want is to co-exist. In Shaa Allah, we hope Allah will guide everyone,” prayed Sheik.

Meanwhile, fact-checking website Africa-check, has issued a stern warning to those distributing graphic images and videos on social media, to ensure that footage is authentic and accurate.

The organisation cross-referenced graphics that are being circulated, claiming to depict “the current situation”, and exposed them as being used out of context.

The organisation warned that although the footage may be real, many are unrelated to the recent outbreak and can have serious repercussions.


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