Somali immigrants staged a demonstration on the streets of Cape Town in South Africa to protest what they view as a resurgence of xenophobia in the country and demanded the government do more to protect foreigners from attacks. “Everyone is a foreigner somewhere” and “stop killing Somalians” read banners at the rally that was attended by about 200 people and moved toward the parliament building.
"We need protection, simple as that," a protest organizer, Abdullahi Ali Hassan, told Agence France Presse. "We want to be treated like brothers and sisters of South Africa, not like enemies, not like foreigners. We come from the African continent, so we want to be treated like community members."
Three Somalis have already been killed this month in the country, reflecting a renewal of the ethnic and racial violence that has periodically plagued South Africa in recent years. In 2008, at least 60 foreigners were killed and thousands more displaced to camps in a spate of anti-immigrant violence, especially in impoverished townships.
On Thursday evening, in one of the most heinous attacks on foreigners in recent memory, two Somali brothers were murdered by axes in the Limpopo province in the north. Last week, in the southern coastal town of Port Elizabeth, another Somali, a shopkeeper, was brutally stoned to death by looters. That attack was videotaped and went viral on YouTube.
The Pretoria government has condemned the violence, which is often accompanied by looting, but stopped short of calling it motivated by racial or ethnic hatred. "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and we, therefore, have been appalled and deeply saddened by the recent acts of violence against Somalis and other foreign nationals in South Africa," Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said at a news conference. "The looting, displacement and killing of foreign nationals in South Africa should not be viewed as xenophobic attacks but opportunistic criminal acts that have the potential to undermine the unity and cohesiveness of our communities."
Somali government officials have also expressed their concerns about the safety of their countrymen in South Africa. "I appeal to the government of South Africa as a matter of urgency to intervene and contain this unnecessary and unfortunate violence against Somali business communities," Somali’s Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon said n a statement directed at South African President Jacob Zuma.
According to the African Center for Migration and Society, at least 140 foreigners were killed in South Africa last year, and this year, about three anti-immigrant incidents are reported weekly. Somalis have emigrated to South Africa by the thousands in recent years, fleeing famine and civil war in their home country to set up small shops and kiosks. People from other parts of Africa, including Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Congolese and Ethiopians, as well as Chinese and South Asians, have poured into South Africa. The Southern African Migration Program reported that foreigners account for roughly 2.2 million of the country’s 50 million total population.
A Somali shopkeeper in the city of Diepsloot named Amina Hassan Abd who fled her native country in 2007 and subsequently saw her shop destroyed, complained to al-Jazeera: “You need money to open the shop again, and I now have none. I don’t look like a South African, and I wear this [hijab]. Every day, I was getting too much trouble, people were swearing [at] me, they were shouting me, stealing my stuff ... they don't like us.”
Indeed, South African natives, burdened with a multitude of other ills, including severe unemployment, widespread poverty, rampant criminality and high rates of HIV-AIDS, seem unconcerned about the plight of foreigners in their country. The Sowetan newspaper reported that South Africans are becoming "increasingly desensitized" to attacks on foreign immigrants.
“While law prohibits heinous deeds such as sexual and violent crimes, the South African population has grown apathetic to these issues with little hope of them being addressed,” the Center for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, warned in a statement. “Similarly, public actions seem to imply that the gravity of the situation is lost on us, despite the fact that xenophobic violence has been a pervasive part of our society since 2008.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.