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Professor Franklyn Lisk on South Africa's xenophobic attacks

Professor Franklyn Lisk, of the Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, discusses the looting and violence in South Africa targeting foreigners in which five people have died.

“The South African President and other political leaders at national and provincial levels, while condemning the violent attacks on “foreign nationals”, have failed to specify that the attacks are aimed specifically at ‘foreign black African nationals’, and stem essentially from ill-informed xenophobic anger against this category of immigrants.

“It is my view that the ruling political class and business elite in South Africa have a contributory role with possible vested interest in this pogrom: the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) seems to encourage the flawed view (i.e. that the presence African immigrants are responsible for high unemployment and pervasive poverty among black South Africans and criminal activity) of the reality of its failure to tackle the socio-economic problems afflicting many black South Africans since coming to power over two decades ago. In fact, there is evidence that xenophobic anger directed at African immigrants can be traced to irresponsible and unjustifiable fiery utterances by local politicians about “illegal immigrants” and their “criminal behaviour”. This could be a deliberate ploy by politicians to get their constituents to turn their anger on African immigrants, when those responsible for the marginalisation and hopelessness are the very same inept, and in some cases corrupt, politicians and their administrations and cronies in the private sector.

“Several of those attacked are successful legitimate foreign African medium and small business owners and petty traders - employing local South African labour in some cases - and catering to the needs of the local population in townships and remote rural areas, or law-abiding workers in manufacturing and agricultural establishments. If there are criminal elements among African immigrants, which is a possibility, these are certainly not in the majority.

“Many of the African immigrants who are now being attacked in South Africa by black South Africans come from countries, such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Nigeria, Malawi, Ghana, etc. that provided political and material support, including sanctuary for ANC liberation fighters and free access to their domestic education and training institutions, for South African refugees.

“Furthermore as often happens in divided societies, poor people see only those who are close to them in the social hierarchy (African immigrants) and ignore those at the top (wealthy white South Africans and non-African immigrants). Since democratisation, the popular view among thinking people is that the ANC has done very little to tackle the huge White-Black disparity in wealth, income and social development in the country.”

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