Open letter to President Ramaphosa – end state-led xenophobia now!

 In C19PC Statements, Media Alert

13 May 2020


Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa

Mr. President, you have been praised globally for your response to the pandemic.[1] Still, South Africa faces disaster. The death toll and infection rates increase daily. An unknown number of people are suffering from starvation within the country’s borders.[2]

As chairperson of the African Union, you have committed to deepening unity across the continent, mainstreaming the needs of women, and championing the position of Africa globally.[3] Yet all of the public statements communicating South Africa’s efforts to fight COVID-19 have excluded migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers living in this country – almost all of whom are African. This exclusion fuels xenophobic attitudes and intensifies the human and economic toll of COVID-19. It is also inconsistent with the crisis of the times, the preamble of the South African constitution and your role as the AU chair.

  1. Your administration has not done enough to provide basic services to non-nationals during a period of unprecedented high demand: there are troubling reports that the Government has limited emergency food provisions only to those with a South African ID number.[4][5] Similarly, non-nationals have been turned away from the healthcare system.[6]
  2. Your administration has said nothing of gender-based violence faced by migrant women under lockdown. Little attempt has been made to overcome language barriers that make reporting difficult.
  3. Your administration has not provided a plan for the thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who have become undocumented since the beginning of lockdown, following the closures of Department of Home Affairs offices. While your administration has promised not to penalise asylum seekers for these office closures, thousands of people have lost access to their bank accounts in this period.[7]


The spread of the virus anywhere is a threat to everyone, everywhere. By denying non-nationals testing, medicine, and treatment for COVID-19 as well as health care for other illnesses, your administration is increasing the number of critically sick people living in the country. Under pandemic conditions this will increase mortality and morbidity rates among non-nationals as well as South Africans. 

Your government has increased the rate of starvation among non-nationals. At the same time Mr. President, your government is inciting xenophobic violence. Already foreigner-owned spaza shops have been looted. We applaud the South Africans who have stepped in to protect their neighbours from violence and robbery.[8]

As if these initial indicators were not enough, Mr. President, your government shamefully continues to behave as if discriminating against non-nationals helps South Africans. Minister of Small Business Development Khumbudzo Ntshavheni announced a plan for supporting small, medium, and micro- enterprises (SSMEs) that exclusively supports SSMEs owned by South African citizens. Minister of Finance Tito Titus Mboweni recommended that the post-COVID re-opening of the economy should prioritise job opportunities for South Africans explicitly at the expense of non-nationals.[9]

Your administration’s actions towards non-South Africans is akin to selecting some people to suffer and potentially die on the basis of an element of their identity, in this case their nationality and/or documentation status. We have seen this kind of state mentality before. This mentality separates human life into people worth saving and people we can or should let die. This is the mentality that led to genocides in Namibia, Darfur, and Rwanda. It is the mentality that motivated eugenic practices in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and many other European countries.

Excluding migrants and refugees contradicts South Africa’s legal commitments. The South African Constitution (1996) guarantees the right to health care and sufficient food to everyone, regardless of their nationality, and prohibits the refusal of emergency medical treatment to any person living within South Africa’s borders regardless of their documentation status.[10]


Consequently, we demand:

  • A clear commitment that no one will be excluded from services or suffer any adverse health outcomes on the basis of their nationality or documentation status;
  • The recognition and revocation of Government economic policies that adversely affect non-nationals;
  • A clear commitment to unity and an end to state-led xenophobia;
  • A clear guarantee that non-nationals and undocumented migrants will not be discriminated against during the de-congesting of informal settlements and other over-crowded areas – and a plan for monitoring de-congestion roll out;[11]
  • A clear plan for prosecuting individuals who commit or have committed xenophobic acts;
  • The provision of appropriate Government support to migrant women, including girls, who are trapped in their homes with abusers (e.g. encouragement to contact GBV Command Centre);[12]
  • A plan for processing paperwork and protecting migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers whose papers were not processed before the national lockdown;
  • A blanket extension of six months or more on all asylum seeker permits as well as a longer-term plan for processing paperwork that expired during the lockdown;[13]
  • That no one will be turned away or prosecuted when they present themselves for screening, testing, and treatment for COVID-19, HIV, or TB;
  • That no one will be discriminated against in the provision of emergency food; and
  • A moratorium on the arrest, detention, and deportation of undocumented migrants.[14]


In solidarity,

C19 People’s Coalition – Regional Solidarity Working Group


For press or other inquiries please contact:

Victor Chikalogwe+62 742 1150 /

People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty, Executive Director:

Boaventura Monjane+258 82 260 5010 /

Mozambican Civil Society Alliance C19




[1]Maromo J. 2020. Coronavirus in SA: WHO boss praises South Africa’s response to Covid-19 pandemic. IOL News, 1 April.  

[2]Win TL, Harrisberg K. 2020. Africa faces “hunger pandemic” as coronavirus destroys jobs and fuels poverty. Reuters, 24 April.

[3]Ateba S. 2020. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa elected African Union Chairperson as continent vows to “silence the guns,” boost trade and close gender gap. Today News Africa, 9 Feb.

[4]Heywood M. 2020. Overlooking the missing millions – another ‘stain on our national conscience.’ Maverick Citizen, 28 April.

[5]Collison C. 2020. Queer refugees battle Covid-19 on top of prejudice. New Frame, 29 April.

[6]Lungu Cynthia. 2020. Covid-19: Not only about health – but human rights too. Daily Maverick, 16 April 2020.

[7]Bornman J. 2020. Coronavirus uncertainty affects asylum seekers. Mail & Guardian, 10 March.

[8]Sizani M. 2020. Covid-19: Township residents protect spaza shops from looters. GroundUP, 15 April.

[9]Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to brief SA on R500bn coronavirus relief package. 2020. News24, 23 April.

[10]Khosa and others v Minister of Social Development and others. 2004. Available:

[11]Adeola R. 2020. Letter: Migrants, undocumented or not, also need help during SA’s Covid-19 crisis. IOL, 20 April 20.

[12]Veary J. 2020. Why xenophobia is bad for the health of all in South Africa. New Frame, 3 April.

[13]Veary J. 2020. Border walls don’t stop viruses, but a blanket amnesty might. Mail & Guardian, 30 March.

[14]Veary J. 2020. Why xenophobia is bad for the health of all in South Africa. New Frame, 3 April.

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