At least twelve immigrants died in pogroms in South Africa. Now the issue is on the UN agenda.
Protest in Abuja, Nigeria, after attacks on migrants in South Africa Photo: dpa
South Africa will be the focus of the world in the coming days – for undesirable reasons. Xenophobic violence against African immigrants, which has left at least 12 people dead in South Africa in recent weeks, will be high on the agenda of the UN General Assembly, which begins Tuesday.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had already been booed at the funeral service for Zimbabwe’s ex-President Robert Mugabe in Harare, is skipping the New York event – and the assembly is chaired by the UN ambassador of Nigeria, of all places, where criticism of South Africa has been loudest.
600 Nigerians have been evacuated from South Africa. "As soon as we get home, we should encourage our countrymen to attack South African companies and citizens," said an enraged Nigerian woman, Adaku Okwonkwo, whose Johannesburg store had been looted. Emmanuel Onwubiko, head of the Human Rights Association of Nigerian Writers, advised a boycott of the South African entertainment company Multichoicef instead.
Faced with the threat of isolation in Africa, voices are now also growing in South Africa demanding that something be done. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, more than 140 African immigrants have fallen victim to murders in South Africa, but rarely are perpetrators convicted. The worst violence in 2008 left more than 60 people dead and drove 200,000 people to flee their homes. The latest violence followed a wave of unprosecuted attacks on foreign truck drivers – over 75 since March.
900 people arrested
According to police in South Africa’s Gauteng province, more than 900 people have been arrested over the violence. But "merely condemning the violence is not enough. South Africa should guarantee the safety of victims and ensure that perpetrators are held accountable," says Dewa Mavhinga, South Africa director for Human Rights Watch.
Decisive steps on the part of the government, critics say, have so far been elusive. President Ramaphosa merely expressed "regret" at the Mugabe funeral service. And Jackson Mthembu, a minister in the presidential office, said the violence had "damaged our reputation."