South Africa: Is the State Complicit in Xenophobic Violence in South Africa?

Demonstrators showing solidarity with arrested migrants outside the court in Johannesburg.

The mob attack on foreign traders in Johannesburg on 7 August can be directly linked to calls by politicians to 'defend the sovereignty of the state', and confirms a dangerous emerging trend: xenophobic populism leads to attacks on foreign nationals.

On 7 August 2019, amid police raids targeting counterfeit goods, a "xenophobic mob" armed with crude weapons rampaged the inner city, breaking and looting foreign-owned shops. The mob's xenophobic intent was very clear. It wanted to do what the state had failed to do: remove foreigners from the city.

Xenophobic violence has become a regular and highly visible feature of South Africa's political landscape. According to Xenowatch, outsiders have been regularly attacked, killed and their livelihoods destroyed since the dawn of democracy in 1994. This year, major violence incidents occurred in Durban (April 2019), when foreign nationals were attacked and displaced in five locations around the city. More information on xenophobia and related violence in South Africa is available on Xenowatch.

This ongoing violence is often blamed on the poor and criminals, but is the South African state complicit? Empirical evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the affirmative. But do not take my word for it. Judge for yourself.


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