SOUTH AFRICA’S XENOPHOBIC VIOLENCE AND STATE COMPLICITY– A CALL TO ACTION.

The United Global Resolve for Peace (UGRFP) has followed the xenophobic attacks on foreign Africans, particularly Nigerians, in South Africa with great regrets and repulsion. The recent looting and maiming of foreign African nationals in suburbs in South Africa follows from a tradition of blaming economic ills on others other than South African nationals and follows an insidious call by South African local leaders to their citizenry to protect the country’s sovereignty from other Africans.

As the mobs moved through the areas populated by foreign Africans and the their businesses a few days ago, their xenophobic intentions were clear- attack other African nationals and their businesses.
Xenophobia has come to become a regular and visible feature of South Africa ‘s political landscape. Other African nationals are habitually viewed as outsiders and are attached, killed and have their livelihood destroyed since the dawn of democracy in 1994 in a nationalistic movement that mirrors the Nazis annihilation plans for Jews in Germany who were accused similarly of having hijacked available jobs, positions and offices to the detriment of German nationals.

In South Africa, the blame for these attacks are leveled against the poor and criminals, but what is often left out is the apparent complicity of some officials of the South African state and its agencies. In fact, overwhelming evidence suggests that the South African government, in part, are as much complicit as the locals who go about attacking, raping and killing as we shall soon establish consequently.

The 7 August mob attack followed a stand-off and confrontation between the police and inner-city traders, who government stated were foreign nationals. During the confrontation, traders attacked and forced the police to retreat. The stand-off was followed by remarkable outrage and condemnations by state officials at all levels (Cabinet, Parliament, Gauteng province, police, Johannesburg municipality) as well as political party leaders.


Through all condemnations, the central theme was that the confrontation with law enforcement was an attack on the state’s sovereignty. This implies foreign interference and suggests that the outrage was caused not so much by the action (the confrontation itself) as by the identity of the actors: foreigners. After all, violent attacks on the police and other law enforcement agents are a regular occurrence during police raids and service delivery protests but rarely evoke such levels of outrage.

One can support the rule of law and condemn illegality, without disregarding basic principles of justice, proportionality, and due process. It must be stared that regular attacks of law enforcement in South Africa (whether by citizens of south Africa or foreign African nationals) are an expression of outrage against a policing system that only oppresses and extorts but does not protect.


As in the past, the language of “attack on sovereignty” was followed by explicit or implicit calls on citizens to defend their country. The mob attack on 7th August was a direct result of these calls, and confirms a dangerous emerging trend: xenophobic populism leads to attacks on foreign nationals.

Recent xenophobic attacks demonstrate state complicity in a number of ways. First, state officials’ calls on citizens to defend the country’s sovereignty and democracy is an order to attack foreigners; an order which the citizenry, already harboring pervasive and strong xenophobic sentiments, is unlikely to turn down.


Second, the mob carried out the attacks in the presence and full view of the police ( who represent the state). The lack of decisive police response to prevent or stop the attacks implies the state’s support or passive involvement. Third, these xenophobic attacks have not elicited any official political will and action to stem them beyond officious acknowledgements or condemnations that serve no real purpose. This is a sign of endorsement or at least tolerance by the state.

By continually denying its complicity through the inaction of its policing agents and the utterances of some of its own political leaders, the South African government re-enforces the criminal resolve of South Africans with xenophobic tendencies. Xenophobic attacks are not just everyday crimes, nor is it a spontaneous and irrational outburst. It is a rational action taken after perpetrators have weighed costs and benefits. In the current context, benefits outweigh costs, and so violence against foreign nationals continues.


While there are many factors that interact in many and complex ways to produce an incident of xenophobic violence, this discussion indicates that state complicity is a key element in the violence causal chain. It needs to be addressed for xenophobic violence to be prevented and the rule of law that offers fair and equal protection to all country’s residents to prevail.
Xenophobic violence undermines the rule of law and a state that is complicit in undermining the rule of law is a danger to itself, its legitimacy and the very sovereignty it wants to restore/protect through police raids.


The Nigerian government have a massive role to play in the next few days and weeks following the recent attacks on its citizens resident in South Africa, as do governments of other countries whose citizens are also victims of these attacks. It is a criminal trend that cannot be wished away by hopeful expressions for peace or by official declaration of condemnation not backed by action. The time and momentum calls for a decisive diplomatic action that should cause South Africa’s government to rethink its lax reaction to xenophobic attacks on its soils and under its watch.

Emerging information that indicates that Nigerian nationals who sought refuge in the Nigeria Embassy in South Africa were turned back and offered little solace sends the wrong impression to the marauders and the host government that the Nigerian government care even less about its own nationals and may further perpetuate the xenophobic resolves against Nigerians.

For the records, the xenophobic attacks in South Africa stands consumed and we at the United Global Resolve For Peace would continue to proffer lasting solutions to such actions that undermine African unity and peace.

Shalom Olaseni
Executive Director,
UGRFP.

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