By Linda Bordoni
In South Africa, xenophobic violence has erupted yet again, in a cycle that is being fueled by an election campaign in which politicians are ramping up anti-immigrant rhetoric in a country where foreigners are easy targets.
Presidential and administrative elections are scheduled for 8 May.
Unconfirmed reports said that two people were killed last week when Malawians, living among South Africans in a squatter camp on the outskirts of Durban were attacked by their neighbors.
Violence against Mozambican migrants in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra has led to a total shutdown of the area, with community members accusing city authorities of failing to stop the mushrooming of illegal structures in the area.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for law enforcement agents to identify and prosecute those involved in the attacks on foreign nationals.
His statement came as Pope Francis, during his apostolic visit to Morocco, issued a passionate plea for host countries to treat immigrants with humanity.
Sheila Pires is a journalist, host and producer for Radio Veritas in Johannesburg. She told Linda Bordoni that the flare up of xenophobic violence is connected to the electoral campaign and has its roots in corruption.
Whenever we have elections in South Africa, populist talk gets loud, Sheila Pires said.
Lately, she added, the issues of land re-distribution and the right to government housing for poor South Africans has sparked xenophobic violence.
She explained that in settlements like Alexandra, in Johannesburg, where there have always been large numbers of foreigners, mostly from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, corruption poisons relationships and prevents peaceful cohabitation.
Because, she said, “you have corrupt officials” who instead of respecting official waiting lists and allotting the houses to those who have a right to them, they sell the “RDP homes” to those who can afford to buy them.
In many cases, she explained, the new owners are foreign nationals who can afford to buy because they have set up shops or found employment.
This, Sheila said, fuels anger and xenophobia on the part of locals.
Divisive electoral campaign
Sheila also speaks of populist electoral campaigns in which hate speech and unsubstantial promises have the power to sway a largely poor population in dire need of healthcare, education and employment.
She recalled that South Africa is a young country in the sense that it has enjoyed democracy only for the past 25 years and said that the nation still has a long way to go in order to be able to offer a system in which all have access to justice and equality.