S.Africa World Cup Party Gives Way to Migrant Fears

Peroshni Govender, Reuters, July 15, 2010

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Almost as soon as Spain defeated the Netherlands in Sunday’s World Cup final, concerns flared about a relapse into attacks on migrants from neighbouring states competing for scarce jobs.

Police shifted from protecting foreign visitors at soccer stadiums to patrolling impoverished townships where migrants have lived as officials vowed no repeat of the violence two years ago that killed 62 and left more than 100,000 homeless.

But many migrants fear a rapid dissipation of feelings of African unity generated by the first World Cup ever held on the continent, stilling South African accusations that foreigners were stealing jobs at a time of 25 percent unemployment.

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The country’s liberal immigration policies have led to millions of Africans flocking to its borders where prospects for work as unskilled labour in the continent’s biggest economy, albeit few, are far better than what they can find at home.

Government officials have said the fear is real, but the threats of mass violence are based on hyped-up rumours.

HYPE OR WELL-GROUNDED FEAR?

Zuma’s government has accused the media of generating hype about a possible flare-up of race-related violence and said the threats were the work of criminals.

But the International Organisation for Migration reported this week Zimbabwean families were fleeing.

Local reports have said foreigners were leaving on buses while one migrant from Somalia told Reuters he was seeking refuge in a densely populated suburb after his store in a township was burned down.

“I was told every foreigner should go back home,” said Khadar Bashir, a 24-year-old Somali trader.

One of the difficulties in classifying the motive for attacks on migrants is the country’s alarmingly high crime rates. The poor from South Africa and abroad fall victim to violence daily in the state where murders average 50 per day.

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