Will Foreign Workers Flocking to World Cup Face Xenophobic Attacks?

Scott Baldauf and Savious Kwinika, Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2010

Customers are happy with his service, the Zimbabwean migrant says, because most other shops in the area don’t open until well after most commuters have already left Diepsloot on minibus taxis for their jobs in Johannesburg. But some customers whisper the warning: “After the World Cup is over, you’d better run back to your country. People will come for you.”

Those are words Mr. Mawira takes quite seriously, given the xenophobic riots of 2008 that killed 67 foreign migrants who were perceived to be taking South African jobs. Some 200,000 migrants took shelter in tent city camps before the South African government shut them down, often returning the migrants to the townships that expelled them with no attempt at reconciliation.

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The government says there are no indications that a storm is brewing.

Yet there are reasons for concern. South Africa has high unemployment, despite 15 years of economic growth. The World Cup gave the country a boost, but now that all the stadiums, hotels, rail-links, and roads have been built, South Africa has likely reached a peak. After the World Cup ends July 11, there will be less need for waiters, bell-boys, and others in the service industry.

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Government prepares for possible xenophobic attacks

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Last week, government spokesman Themba Maseko told the Monitor that South Africa would do all it could to protect its image by ensuring that no foreigner is attacked.

Mr. Maseko warned that any xenophobic attacks perpetrated against foreign nationals would not be tolerated. He noted that the cabinet had reestablished the interministerial committee (IMC), which focuses on and deals with incidents and threats of xenophobia attacks on foreign nationals.

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But South African citizens, mainly from the poor black townships, argue that an attack could not be ruled out. Interviews with a number of South Africans shows a deep animosity toward foreigners in their country.

‘The best is to kick them out violently’

Kabelo Gumede of Katlehong township, located some 12 miles south of Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD), says he is fed up with foreign nationals coming to South Africa to make him jobless.

“Every morning I go right round Johannesburg city looking for a job, but I can’t find any because of these foreigners,” says Mr. Gumede. “The best thing is to kick them out violently.”

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With less than a week before the opening of the South Africa World Cup, an influx of foreigners in search of work has raised ethnic tensions. Some fear a repeat of the 2008 xenophobic riots that killed 67 foreign migrants.

Tiyani Tsakisi of Diepsloot, which is located nine miles northwest of Johannesburg, says he hates foreigners for stealing South Africa’s beautiful girls and women. “The problem with foreigners is that they pay huge sums of money to our girls and women resulting in them refusing to fall in love with us,” Mr. Tsakisi says.

Tshidiso Mokoena of Vereeniging says foreigners bring in drugs such as cocaine, mandrax, and marijuana, and commit robbery. “I have no problem living with foreigners provided they respect our elders. Now my main problem staying with our African brothers and sisters is that they impregnate our girls and dump them,” says Mokeona.

Threats are real: officer

Duncan Breen, advocacy officer for the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), says such threats are widespread, “real,” and “they have to be prevented at all cost.”

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Xenophobic attacks against foreigners are based on “misplaced” and “primitive” stereotypes, says Marc Gbaffou, an Ivoirian national and president of African Diaspora Forum, an advocacy group.

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Many South Africans are of the mind-set that violence against foreigners will force them home, says Luke Zunga of the Global Zimbabwe Forum, which has 7 million members living in worldwide diaspora. That feeling is grossly misplaced, he argues.

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