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- Towards Tolerance, Law, and Dignity: Addressing Violence against Foreign Nationals in South Africa – (Advocacy)
Although violence against foreign nationals and other ‘outsiders’ has been a long-standing feature of post-Apartheid South Africa, the intensity and scale of the May 2008 attacks were extraordinary. What started off as an isolated incidence of anti-foreigner violence in Alexandra on 11 May, quickly spread to other townships and informal settlements across the country. After two weeks and the deployment of the Army, the violence subsided. In its wake, 62 people, including 21 South Africans, were dead; at least 670 wounded; dozens of women raped; and at least 100 000 persons displaced and property worth of millions of Rand looted, destroyed or seized by local residents and leaders.
The attacks stimulated a range of pronouncements and accounts from political and community leaders, scholars, media and civil society. There was also a proliferation of explanations regarding the root and immediate causes, as well as appropriate strategies for short, medium and long-term interventions. However, many of the earlier recommendations were premised on outdated or inaccurate information, and if implemented, could be ineffective or potentially exacerbate xenophobia and related violence.
Recognising the need for an objective, politically neutral account of the attacks, this report presents the findings of a baseline study commissioned by IOM and conducted by the Forced Migration Studies Programme (FMSP) at Wits University in Johannesburg. Funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and involving almost five months of field work in seven sites in Gauteng, and the Western Cape, its main objective was to move beyond much of the existing work that focused largely on attitudes and perceptions. Instead, this study outlines the political economy of violence against outsiders and the immediate triggers and factors that helped translate xenophobic attitudes into the violent attacks witnessed in May 2008. These same triggers and incentives account for much of the violence that preceded May 2008. If not adequately addressed, they could result in future violence against both foreign nationals and South African citizens.