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May 19, 2008

South Africa's foreigner problem

19safrica2337The pictures out of Johannesburg today, like the one at left by Bloomberg, are deeply troubling, if not unexpected.

Last year I blogged about attacks on Somali immigrants in South Africa. Now black South Africans, frustrated by persistent unemployment and rising food prices, have begun venting their anger at just about any African immigrant they can find. Mobs wielding sticks and torches roamed through the townships of Africa's most industrialized city, targeting immigrants from Mozambique, Malawi, Somalia, Zimbabwe. Police said today that 22 people had been killed over the past week.

Like in Kenya a few months ago, the saddest irony is that these attacks pit this country's poorest against one another. The end of apartheid has not cured South Africa's problems. Its leaders talk of a "Rainbow Nation" but the sprawling townships are full of poor blacks who still can't afford a pot of clean drinking water, let alone anything else.

At the same time, South Africa's overall prosperity has made it a magnet for refugees from countries with bigger problems. Large communities of Somalis, Congolese, Angolans and other foreigners crowd the cities to wash cars, clean houses, do anything. South Africa doesn't have refugee camps, so immigrants can go straight into the well-off cities and earn jobs that no one else wants to do.

Of the country's 50 million people, about 5 million are immigrants -- 3 million from Zimbabwe. Xenophobia is an epidemic. South Africans blame foreigners for the high crime rate, but immigrants say that they're the main victims. Congolese, who don't speak the language, are easy targets for the odd mugging or beating. And yet for them, the promise of being hated in a stable country is better than the

The latest flare-up comes as thousands of Zimbabweans stream into South Africa, fleeing post-election violence in their tinpot nation. South Africa has no plan to deal with these people. Its president, Thabo Mbeki, lamely called today for an "expert panel" to investigate.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel laureate, pointed out today that it was South African blacks who, not long ago, in the darkest times of apartheid, sought shelter in countries like Zimbabwe. Now that South Africa's economy, the engine of the continent, is struggling, all of Africa could be imperiled. The first people to see that up close, sadly, are the foreigners living in the Rainbow Nation.


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I saw this coming a long time ago.
I (Zimbabwean)have always told my South African friends that South Africa might appear calm but treacherous and powerful currents run just below the surface.
The current leadership has neglected the poor. The perpetrators of these crimes have nothing to lose not even a future


I am saddened the un-African attitude being displayed by South African people. Many Africans are poor but they don't target refugees and fellow Africans.
We Africans collectively we participated with you in your struggle of dismantling the apartheid system. We also, shared the pain with our fellow South Africans.
We Africans feel that South African people have betrayed us and repaid our generosity by killing us.
It is not excuse to be afro phobic because of lack of unemployment or food. You can address your issue by dealing your government, the migrants they are just making a living and they have not taken what is yours.
So, the way forward is to look other poorer African countries that have millions of refugees (or migrants) but the citizens of those Africans don’t kill, harass or insult their fellow Africans.
Shame on you South Africa and shame on you ANC (they only talk but don’t bring order to the country).


It is amazing how quickly the South African People forget how well kept or taken care of they were when they needed refuge, shelter and jobs. They quickly forget who they turned to when they were beaten and arrested in their so called"Own Country" what happened to gratitude? Its time black southafricans realised that the have to get of their black behinds and do what they rest of the earlier independent african countries have been doing, fight for the right to education then employment through the balot and not get up in arms agains our commrades

chris county durham

black people say apartheid had destroyed them , but for kids who were born after apartheid how on earth is it affecting thier opportunities. they werent even born when apartheid was in place yet they still make nothng of themselves

bath mate

Happy new year. thanks for posting.


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Somewhere in Africa was written by McClatchy correspondent Shashank Bengali, who covered sub-Saharan Africa from 2005 to 2009. He's now based in Washington, D.C., as a national correspondent.

Read Shashank's stories at news.mcclatchy.com or send him a story idea.


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