South Africa, the home land of the late giant fighter against Apartheid, racism and discrimination – Nelson Mandela “Mandiba”, is already ‘on the precipice of explosive xenophobic violence’ against migrants, refugees, asylum seekers – and even citizens perceived as outsiders. Just three days ahead of this year’s Nelson Mandela International Day (18 July), a group of independent United Nations human rights experts condemned reports of escalating violence targeting foreign nationals in South Africa.
Today, the world honours a giant of our time; a leader of unparalleled courage and towering achievement; and a man of quiet dignity and deep humanity — António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
Known as Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world, the human rights experts warned that the ongoing xenophobic mobilisation is “broader and deeper,” and has become the central campaign strategy for some political parties in the country.
In a statement released on 15 July 2022, the United Nations independent human rights experts cited “Operation Dudula” as an example of the spreading hate speech.
Originally a social media campaign, Operation Dudula has become an umbrella for the mobilisation of “violent protests, vigilant eviolence, arson targeting migrant-owned homes and businesses, and even the murder of foreign nationals.”
According to the human rights experts, xenophobia is often explicitly racialised, targeting low-income Black migrants and refugees and, in some cases, South African citizens accused of being “too Black to be South Africans.”
South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world, according to a recent World Bank’s report titled ‘Inequality in Southern Africa’.
The report highlighted how inequality is consistent as 10% of the population owns more than 80% of the wealth.
Out of its 60 million inhabitants, “an estimated 10 million people in South Africa live below the food poverty line, while the unemployment rate is at a record high of almost 40% amongst Black South Africans according to Statistics South Africa.”
Poverty, unemployment and crime are reportedly the greatest sources of contention as Operation Dudula and its members believe that illegal foreigners are the reason that South Africa’s public socioeconomic systems do not benefit its native Black majority.
Impoverished former European colonies –who also fall victims of deepening poverty and inequality–, South Africa’s neighbouring countries- Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and the enclaved Lesotho-, have been lastly a source of increasing migration.
Fueled by the Government
“Anti-migrant discourse from senior government officials has fanned the flames of violence, and government actors have failed to prevent further violence or hold perpetrators accountable,” say the UN human rights Special Rapporteurs.
According to the World Bank’s country review, the South African economy was already in a weak position when it entered the pandemic after a decade of low growth.
From 2021, the recovery is expected to continue in 2022, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth expected at 2.1% and to average 1.7% over the medium term.
Commodity prices remain important for South Africa, a major net exporter of minerals and net importer of oil, however, strengthening investment, including foreign direct investment, will be critical to propelling growth and creating jobs.
The World Bank goes on explaining that South Africa has made considerable strides to improve the wellbeing of its citizens since its transition to democracy in the mid-1990s, but progress has stagnated in the last decade.
The percentage of the population below the upper-middle-income-country poverty line fell from 68% to 56% between 2005 and 2010 but has since trended slightly upwards to 57% in 2015 and is projected to have reached 60% in 2020.
Structural challenges and weak growth have undermined progress in reducing poverty, which have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, adds the review.
“The achievement of progress in household welfare is severely constrained by rising unemployment, which reached an unprecedented 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021. The unemployment rate is highest among youths aged between 15 and 24, at around 66.5%.”
In her extensively documented, detailed article on IPS: Myths Fuel Xenophobic Sentiment in South Africa, Fawzia Moodley also reported from Johannesburg on a study by the World Bank: Mixed Migration, Forced Displacement and Job Outcomes in South Africa.
Debunking the myth that foreign nationals are ‘stealing’ jobs from locals or are better off than locals is the finding that “one immigrant worker generated approximately two jobs for local residents in South Africa between 1996 and 2011”.
“Today, the world honours a giant of our time; a leader of unparalleled courage and towering achievement; and a man of quiet dignity and deep humanity,” said the UN secretary general, António Guterres, in his message on the occasion of the 2022 Nelson Mandela International Day.
“Our world today is marred by war; overwhelmed by emergencies; blighted by racism, discrimination, poverty, and inequalities; and threatened by climate disaster,” adds Guterres.
“Let us find hope in Nelson Mandela’s example and inspiration in his vision.”
Nelson Mandela devoted his life to the service of humanity — as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa. See Mandela’s life >>. See also: Mandela Rules >>
“It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”- Nelson Mandela.
Any politicians listening over there?
Featured image: Nelson Mandela “Mandiba” (UN Photo, Pernaca Sudhakaran).