Letter to the SA Human Rights Commission: Xenophobic Threats in South Africa
Commissioner Chris Nissen
Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission
c/o Zona Morton: firstname.lastname@example.org
6 July 2020
Dear Commissioner Nissen
Xenophobic threats of deportation and violence towards African and South East Asian migrant communities in South Africa
We, members of the Covid 19 People’s Coalition (C-19PC), listed below, note with extreme concern calls for the mass deportation and attacks on African and South East Asian migrants, traders, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented people in South Africa, as well as threats of violence being made toward them. The incidences described below, as well as others not mentioned here, demand urgent action. They also point to the need to tackle what could be called ‘institutionalised xenophobia’ where police, immigration officials, hospital admissions consciously exclude migrant workers and traders, refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented people from services that they are entitled to, the latter which are in keeping with the Constitutional imperative that all those who live in South Africa have a right to dignity and to share in the wealth and resources of the country towards their survival and livelihoods. To this end, Chapter 9 Institutions, state oversight mechanisms, civil society and the public are instrumental in preventing xenophobic violence.
Therefore, we draw attention to the following covered in this letter:
- A number of calls inciting hatred towards and violence against African migrants, including traders during the course of the lockdown;
- The past context of inadequate responses from state actors, civil society and the South African public to prevent, stop and address such xenophobic calls and attacks;
- The risk, furthermore, of poor and working class South African nationals most likely to be caught up in conflicts ensuing from the xenophobic calls;
- The dire situation of African migrant workers, refugees, and asylum seekers during the lockdown, whose difficulty in accessing basic needs and services to survive has increased;
- Recommendations towards redressing the above issues; and
- A number of appended documents raising concerns by the coalition pertaining to the challenges faced by African and South East Asian nationals during the lockdown.
Current calls to incite xenophobic violence noted by the C-19PC
A poster has been circulating on social media since the night of July 2, in which the self-named ‘Mzansi Patriotic Front’ calls for the “mass deportation” of “all foreigners with citizenship or not” by the end of July 7. A further call made by the All Truck Drivers Foundation (ATDF) to meet on July 6 to ‘plan attacks on foreign truck drivers’ has resulted in the burning of a truck driven by a Zimbabwean national on Sunday, 5 July 2020. At the behest of crime intelligence, a case was opened at SAPS ALBERTON registered on CAS 77/7/2020.
On 20 June, Black First Land First (BLF) issued a statement criticizing the “decision of the Pretoria High Court on Thursday to give non South Africans (asylum seekers and special permit holders from Angola, Lesotho and Zimbabwe) the Special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant of R350 per month for six months, [as] insensitive and shall only fuel black on black violence on the poor”. The statement, in the current context implies sanctioning of such violence. (https://blf.org.za/2020/06/20/the-courts-decision-to-give-non-south-africans-the-r350-srd-grant-fuels-afrophobia/)
The twitter post and feed on twitter by an individual named as Lerato Pillay, in which she calls for Nigerians to be dealt with to address criminality in South Africa. The responses and interactions in the thread are further full of inciting content and calls, and identify the possible coordination of a formal group to mete out such violence in the country, especially in Soweto in Gauteng. (https://twitter.com/Lerato_Pillay/status/1278740634891956226)
Impact on South Africans, especially in poor and working class communities
The lives of many of the most socially and economically vulnerable peoples living in South Africa are being put at risk with these calls. Not only is there risk to all black African and South East Asian status within the Republic, including migrant workers, refugees, asylum seekers and students, but also to the entire black poor and working classes, hard hit by the lockdown regarding access to basic needs, including South Africans. The pattern of past xenophobic attacks has shown that the flare ups mostly occur in the poorest and most vulnerable working class communities, townships and informal settlements. Thus, non access to socio-economic rights, basic needs and services by the state during the lockdown must be noted. As well, the calls also target students, professionals, business people and others for xenophobic attack.
Past context of inefficient redress of xenophobia attacks on black African and South East Asian nationals, and related issues
Redress from state actors, civil society and the South African public to prevent, stop and address such xenophobic calls and attacks has a poor record. The C-19PC has noted in its formal press release the need for redress for victims of xenophobia from the government, including the state, politicians and law enforcement agencies. However, it is important to also note the need for constitutional oversight bodies within the state, as well as external human rights oversight structures to conduct due diligence and respond in order to hold government responsible to act efficiently and justly, as well as to proactively work with civil society and community actors and leaders and those in business to make efforts toward solidarity to prevent xenophobia.
Dire hardship of migrant workers, refugees, and asylum seekers during the lockdown—increased hardship to access basic needs and services to survive
The C-19PC welcomes attempts by South African Unions to recruit black migrant workers or to provide support to them, in keeping with principles espoused in Workers of the World Unite. However, we note with dismay inadequate cognizance of our constitutional rights by the government’s lockdown/pandemic regulations and implementation methods that have resulted in severe hardships, as well as job losses and inefficient access to basic needs in the most vulnerable black poor and working class communities that makes up the majority of peoples living in South Africa. This has undoubtedly increased competition and raised tensions within communities, and it is clear from reports we receive regularly that non-national communities are faced with exclusion from access to such basics as food, PPE, healthcare, shelter, etc., both via omission and commission by the state, local communities and individuals.
Recommendations towards redressing the above serious issues
We bring these issues to the attention of the South African Human Rights Commission for action and support in the following manner:
- To take note of and implement immediate measures to prevent the xenophobic violence indicated in the immediate weeks and future;
- To escalate this submission of concerns by advocating immediately and directly to the President of the Republic of South Africa and the South African Parliament and Ministers that the issues raised must be addressed immediately, adequately and justly as they threaten to lead to the death, injury and displacement of many, not to mention criminality of others if the xenophobic attacks called for and other incidences occur;
- To immediately alert and conduct oversight of law enforcement officials and structures, including the Minister of Police, the SAPS and other law enforcement agencies (metro police, intelligence services, private security), and courts acting to identify, arrest and charge those responsible for inciting violence;
- To engage with civil society towards organizing to prevent these attacks, and support their efforts to address the needs of and tensions facing affected communities;
- To undertake various public education measures to educate the public on how to raise grievances in a constructive way;
- To encourage trade unions to maintain links with migrant worker organisations, like the ADF to ensure that black migrant workers have a voice;
- To note the various challenges to human rights access in this letter that also make it difficult, ultimately, to observe the lockdown/quarantine’s main aim to promote health and safety to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, and to engage with government to make authentic efforts to promote the survival of all during the pandemic, including dispensing properly the special C19 grant payments; and
- To address the lack of adequate access to basic needs and services for all who live in South Africa by engaging government actors and agencies tasked with official mandates in this regard, civil society and communities by including them in deliberations and giving them clear and unambiguous access to the Solidarity Fund directly.
Please refer to appended links with various documents and statements released by the C-19PC regarding the challenges faced by foreign nationals under the current lockdown conditions.
We request that the South African Human Rights Commission remain open to further correspondence and engagement with the C-19PC in due course to receive additional complaints, requests and support as we become aware of them, and as we strive to act for the security of all those living in South Africa.
Roshila Nair, Basic Needs Working Group: +27648770434
Victor Chikalogwe, Regional Solidarity Working Group: +27627421150
Anti-repression Working Group
Workers Rights Working Group
Migrant Workers Union of South Africa
Cash Transfers, subgroup Economics Working Group
Food Working Group