SA must avoid repeat of xenophobic violence

Members of the #PutSouthAfricansFirst movement have been making waves in recent weeks as they demand that South Africans be prioritised over foreign nationals, particularly with regards to jobs.
Members of the #PutSouthAfricansFirst movement have been making waves in recent weeks as they demand that South Africans be prioritised over foreign nationals, particularly with regards to jobs.
Image: REUTERS

Members of the #PutSouthAfricansFirst movement have been making waves in recent weeks as they demand that South Africans be prioritised over foreign nationals, particularly with regards to jobs.

In a country that lost 2 million jobs in the second quarter of this year, employment is already a highly-charged topic without the anti-foreign sentiment being advanced.  

Those who subscribe to the ethos of the movement have come in for fierce criticism.

The movement’s march a few weeks ago has certainly caused tensions to rise.

At the weekend, one Twitter user caused another stir when referring to a Zimbabwean-born waiter as an “alien” and refusing to be served by him.

The woman called on South Africans to “normalise refusing to be served by aliens #PutSouthAfricansFirst”. 

The authenticity of the account and the story shared have been called into question. Regardless of whether it is fact or fake, the truth is that it has the potential to fuel discontent.

The SA government and law enforcement have in the past been criticised for its handling of the issue

SA has a shameful history of xenophobic violence and discrimination; one that we should avoid repeating at all costs.

In 2008, the country was gripped by violence. A total of 62 people were killed during riots, including 21 South Africans, while hundreds were injured and properties looted.

In 2019, xenophobic violence again reared its ugly head, causing diplomatic tensions on the continent.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report released last month, highlighted incidents of xenophobia in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape last year that claimed the lives of 12 people.

Of those killed, only two were said to be foreign nationals. However, according to HRW researchers, interviews with a range of stakeholders indicate that the death toll may be higher.

The SA government and law enforcement have in the past been criticised for its handling of the issue.

According to TimesLIVE, the HRW report recommended that “government fully implements the national action plan to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and that xenophobia be declared a crime”, among others.

Public declarations by the likes of the #PutSouthAfricansFirst movement have sparked debate around whether the group’s assertions fall within the ambit of freedom of speech or if it they are inciting violence against fellow Africans.

It is a fine line; one that can so easily be crossed with one callous comment or statement.



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