Malawi, Somalia plan to rescue citizens trapped by xenophobia in KwaZulu-Natal
MALAWI and Somalia are preparing to repatriate their citizens after weeks of xenophobic violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
Last night, the Somali embassy said it was trying to trace its citizens and help them escape the violence.
It has demanded urgent assistance from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
The Malawian government said it would be helping citizens living in South Africa to return to their homeland following the violence.
Malawian Information Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa said: “The situation is really tense as about 360 Malawians are stranded in South Africa following the xenophobic attacks there.”
Nankhumwa said the Malawian embassy in Pretoria had started processing temporary travel documents for its nationals. “Malawians targeted have lost everything, including their passports.”
It is unclear whether the Mozambican, Zimbabwean and Congolese governments have similar plans.
Fresh attacks took place in KwaMashu, north of Durban, again on Sunday and yesterday.
Thousands of foreigners are in transit camps after three weeks of violence in which five people are believed to have died.
International Relations and Cooperation Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela declined to comment on the move by Malawi and Somalia.
Fears that the xenophobic violence will spread have been stoked by the statements of ANC leaders.
Human rights lawyers and political analysts yesterday criticised ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe for calling for the establishment of refugee camps for immigrants. They said his was a knee-jerk reaction.
Mantashe’s call is the latest labelled as inciting. Two weeks ago, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini reportedly told a moral regeneration gathering that foreigners should leave the country.
Also in the past two weeks, President Jacob Zuma’s son, Edward, said South Africa was a ticking time bomb, with the risk of foreigners taking over.
And in an interview with The Sowetan, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, who is part of a team appointed by Zuma to address the xenophobic violence, said serious crimes were mostly committed by undocumented people.
Yesterday, Mantashe reportedly told News24 the attacks should be seen as “Afrophobic”.
“When African refugees walk in here … they go to townships predominantly and there’s a scramble for resources there and the tension takes the form of Afrophobia.
“I think it was a good gesture for us to say people must live naturally, but ultimately we must have refugee camps so that we can document people,” he said.
Attempts to get further comment from Mantashe failed.
Experts say Mantashe’s calls are part of the government’s greater scheme to remove foreigners from the country, starting with the closure of refugee reception centres in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg last year.
Ingrid Palmary, an associate professor at the Wits African Centre for Migration and Society, said: “When the refugee reception centres were closed and moved to the borders the suggestion from this was that this is the first step towards encampment.
“One must remember that refugees and asylum seekers are only a small portion of those who move into the country. The majority of foreigners come on work, student or tourist visas.
“Camps are based on the assumption that people are based here permanently, but most immigrants come only for employment and return to their home countries.”
Palmary said a big question was whether camps were constitutionally legal as they would deprive people of their right of freedom of movement.
“It’s clear South Africa has serious problems. It’s clearly a crisis. We need meaningful statements from our leaders.”
Jacob van Garderen, of Lawyers for Human Rights, slammed the call for refugee camps.
“This call smacks of ostrich politics where you stick your head in the sand and pretend the problem isn’t there,” he said.
Political analyst Shadrack Gutto said there was a lack of government leadership in tackling xenophobia.
“We need a clear understanding on foreigners because at the moment we have some [Europeans and Asians] whom we love and hug and others [African] whom we kick, beat, burn and hate.”
-Nivashni Nair, Graeme Hosken, Bongani Mthethwa, Taschica Pillay and AFP