Posted on March 24, 2020

Long Walk to Freedom: Xenophobia Continues Against African Migrants in Johannesburg South Africa

Zammataro, The Advocate, March 22, 2020

I had the opportunity to do a three-month research project in Johannesburg that ended in late August, 2019. It centered on the impact of xenophobia on African migrants looking to set up businesses in the city. I was based in Hillbrow, considered a dangerous part of Johannesburg. A no go zone. However, what it lacks in safety, it returns tenfold in African migrant experiences. Experiences that reveal a cacophony of tears, trepidation and sorrow. Of dreams turned into nightmares, of years of waiting for refugee papers that never get processed. Of the horror of having to face xenophobic attacks from other black Africans taking their anger and frustration over a weak economy and high unemployment rates on the African migrants. Many of these migrants originate from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.


{snip} Hillbrow was also one of the epicenters of the xenophobic violence that crippled Johannesburg for almost two weeks in September of 2019. {snip}

For the majority of Johannesburg’s poor, the reality of a day in Johannesburg is a walk around the streets of Hillbrow intoxicated, high on drugs and consumed by a spirit of helplessness due to the tragic conditions in which they find themselves. Many of these same homeless and hungry people are involved directly in the looting and violence against African migrants. They steal food, drinks and anything else they can get their hands on in a desperate effort to take advantage of a few minutes of madness to temporarily placate the ravages of hunger and homelessness that have become the epitome of their lives in Hillbrow. {snip}

The question on my mind is where is the government? How can black South Africans brutally attack and destroy the property of African migrants with fickle responses from the state? Especially when we talk about the most powerful state in Africa. I have concluded that the South African government is unable or unwilling to call this targeted anti-immigrant violence what it is, xenophobia.


{snip} South Africans need to have a national dialogue about what it means to have immigrants in their midst and what part of this falls outside the country’s earlier vision of being a Rainbow Nation. {snip}