Xenophobia and the rise of fascist rhetoric: New Frame

Fourteen years have passed since the worst outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa, where more than 60 people have been killed and hundreds displaced. Throughout this time, the government has failed to prevent further attacks on migrants and has failed to introduce meaningful or lasting interventions to address the social and economic issues that sparked the violence.

Since the beginning of this year, we have seen the continued normalization of xenophobia in our national politics. Gayton McKenzie of the Patriotic Alliance led raids on migrant-owned businesses and encouraged harassment of Johannesburg City Council staff while Julius Malema and economic freedom fighters intimidated migrant waiters in Gauteng restaurants .

Political parties at all levels have also increasingly shifted their stance on migration as a means of gaining votes. This coincided with the rapid rise of the #PutSouthAfricansFirst group on social media and the vigilante group Operation Dudula and its leader Nhlanhla “Lux” Dlamini.

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The government’s inability to address the unemployment crisis, which the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated, has created fertile ground for further violence. Despite policies such as the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the state appears unable and unwilling to take meaningful action.

Even in the face of the brutality of xenophobic attacks – forcefully captured in widely circulated photographs of the charred body of Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave (“the burning man”) in May 2008 and images of the brutal murder of Emmanuel Sitole in the streets of ‘Alexandra in April 2015 – and the chaos of long periods of violence in 2015, 2017 and 2019, law enforcement and politicians have often dismissed xenophobic violence as random criminal acts.

The Nhamuave murderers have yet to face justice, and one can only assume that the reason the Sitole murderers were arrested quickly and sentenced to prison is because their faces appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times. Dozens of other migrants who were killed in xenophobic violence have died without names and their killers are still free.

Blame the Migrants

Part of the problem with the perception of xenophobic violence in South Africa as something that happens in waves or sporadic outbreaks, as the media tends to portray it, is that it ignores the daily incidents of harassment, intimidation and violence that migrants face in South Africa. the streets, their businesses, trying to enroll their children in school and access health care in South Africa.

This progressive and constant violence coincides with the rise of a fascist rhetoric embodied in Dlamini’s public persona and in the language he uses. Dlamini is a self-proclaimed military commander, exuding a sense of hyper-nationalism in which he and his followers want to rid the country of “illegal immigrants” whom they accuse of committing crimes and jeopardizing the country’s sovereignty.

Dlamini was recently charged with burglary with intent to steal and malicious damage to property after he and members of Operation Dudula raided the home of a Soweto resident, accusing him of selling Drugs.

During his court appearance, Dlamini was photographed giving the salute, and after his release on bail his sectarian supporters cheered him on. The Operation Dudula Twitter account recently tweeted about an alleged plot to kill Dlamini, while also calling for volunteers to join its armed military wing.

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That a figure like Dlamini exists is not surprising. Shockingly, senior ANC government officials are repeating the bile that Dlamini spews on public platforms. Echoing these messages only serves to normalize and entrench these views, creating room for even more extremists to emerge.

Home Secretary Aaron Motsoaledi has already shown his contempt for migrants, blaming them for the failing health system and other social ills. Recently, in an interview with the SABC after a raid on a passport syndicate that sold South African passports to migrants, Motsoaledi noted“They were never refugees in the first place. They make us fools. That is why I am in no way affected by the allegations that we are xenophobic in South Africa. We are undermined because it does not happen in any other country on our continent… They only do it in South Africa because they believe our laws allow them to do it and some of them even say: “ No, the constitution in South Africa allows you to do hooliganism”, you know? And this must end. I’m not going to accept that.”

Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, recently tweeted: “Okay. An illegal immigrant by definition is already a “lawbreaker”. They crossed the border by illegal means. Refugees fleeing armed conflict or political persecution are, of course, a different category. Solutions to this problem begin with the shameless enforcement of SA laws. »

In another tweet responding to an article about violence against migrants through Operation Dudula, he replied: “This is how some media fabricate false narratives that wrongly tarnish the image of our country. What “attacks against foreigners”? The article is full of innuendo that exposes the author’s prejudices.

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Responding to questions from the National Council of Provinces in March, Vice President David Mabuza repeated a phrase often uttered by xenophobes: “Our immigration system is struggling with the implementation of strict measures to deal with the influx of undocumented foreigners into our country, who ultimately compete with our citizens for limited resources to survive,” he said. “This competition often leads to tensions in many communities, which then manifest themselves in different forms of campaigns and actions which, for the most part, have negative undertones.”

The latest estimates from Statistics South Africa put the number of migrants, including undocumented migrants, at around 3.95 million people. Despite this, the politicians and xenophobes behind groups such as Operation Dudula and #PutSouthAfricansFirst often circulate wildly exaggerated claims about the number of migrants living in the country.

Unless there is serious societal condemnation of the growing xenophobic tensions, including more organized interventions by trade unions and others opposed to violence and fascist rhetoric, they will continue to fester and deepen. spread.

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