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At a recent demonstration against foreigners in South Africa, Mary Lowe said she was marching because an undocumented immigrant killed her nephew. “We are basically fighting against all the crime committed by foreigners who are illegally in the country,” Lowe, a member of the anti-immigrant group Operation Dudula, which means “force out” in the Zulu language, told National Public Radio. “We’ve got our own criminals here. Our hands are already full.”
Operation members conduct “blitzes” in neighborhoods where they suspect illegal immigrants might be residing or working, noted the Witness, a South Africa-based outlet. Grilling potential undocumented folks on the street, they apprehend them before bringing them to the police.
Immigrants don’t necessarily commit more crimes than native-born South Africans, say critics. But violent crime, already historically high in South Africa relative to other countries, has spiked recently, Africanews wrote. In the first three months of 2022, murders rose by more than 20 percent, including a nearly 40 percent surge in child deaths, compared to last year. Kidnappings more than doubled. Sexual crimes increased by almost 14 percent.
Economic conditions aren’t helping. As the South African publication BusinessTech explained, the country’s gross domestic product had recouped what had been lost during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. Ordinary South Africans, however, are nonetheless poorer. Recent growth hasn’t trickled down.
Writing in the Conversation, University of the Western Cape Economist Johannes P S Sheefeni noted that “lackluster economic growth, growing inflation and very high unemployment” typify the South African economy. Civil unrest and violence, unsurprisingly, are the result. He fears more trouble is on the way as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drives food and energy prices higher.
Xenophobia is not a new phenomenon in South Africa, the Washington Post added. In 2008, for example, attackers killed 62 suspected illegal residents in Johannesburg. At the foundation of these troubles, however, are South Africans’ perceptions of their lot since the end of Apartheid in the early 1990s. Rather than inaugurating peace and prosperity, the end of White minority rule has undercut public safety and created economic precariousness.
Zimbabwe-born writer Ndaba Sibanda went further. In an opinion column in South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, he argued that views originating in the colonial era when Britain and the Dutch ruled the region, are behind Operation Dudula. Why else would Black South Africans be condemning other Black Africans with whom they share cultural ties? The divisions sown in the 19th century when Europeans drew the region’s borders on a map are still influencing people’s minds today, he said.
Some South Africans have embraced this perspective, as the Christian Science Monitor showed.
Others still believe they’d be better off without some of their neighbors.