Thursday, 22 May 2008

Xenophobia leaves ugly trail in South African townships

For over a week the South African media has focused on little more than one issue. The xenophobic attacks on foreigners sharing space in the poorer townships and squatter camps in and around Johannesburg. Many of these foreigners are refugees from a number of African countries where despotic dictators have been allowed to run amok. Not surprisingly the majority - estimated at over 3 million - are from Zimbabwe where the economy has ground to a halt.

The South African government has failed to recognise that there is a crisis in Zimbabwe and as a result has not classed these immigrants - almost all illegals - as refugees or to provide structures to accommodate them. Arriving in the country with little more than the clothes on their back many end up in one of the many shack communities that surround the cities.

In South Africa they are more able to eke out a living doing casual jobs such as gardening, domestic work or casual labour.

The poor in South Africa continue to be poor. Millions are unemployed and live in a number of squatter camps in corrugated iron shacks.

Foreigners are being blamed for for everything from taking jobs and housing away from South Africans to crime.

The violence has spread across Gauteng, and the army has been brought in to help the police cope. This evening brings the news that xenophobia has raised its ugly head in the Cape.

It is the poor blaming poor immigrants for their troubles. A scapegoat has been found!

Thousands of foreigners have sought refuge in police stations, community centres and churches. South Africans of all colours have come forward with help - food, clothing, money - to lessen the plight of these people. A major bank donated R3 million to assist. Those involved in the violence are indeed a small minority.

Perhaps its time for the government to begin to act?

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