Xenophobia in focus

EWN takes a look at possible reasons for violence and a timeline of attacks since 2008.

A Congolese foreign national reads a book as he walks through a damaged camp site on18 June, 2008 at a temporary refugees camp in Soetwater on the outskirt of Cape Town. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa has been rocked by incidents of violent xenophobic attacks recently.

In May 2008, thousands of foreigners were forced to flee their homes in local townships across the country when locals attacked them in a wave of xenophobic violence.

Attacks on foreign nationals have been happening in townships and reasons for the attacks are largely because of people's financial status.

LISTEN: Lindiwe Zulu tells foreign national business owners to share business secrets.

In 2008 a series of riots started in the Alexandra township where locals attacked migrants from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing two people and injuring 40 others.

In the following weeks the violence spread, first to other settlements in the province, then to the coastal cities of Durban and Cape Town.

Attacks were also reported in parts of Mpumalanga, the North West and Free State.

According to a report by the Human Sciences Research Council, there are four broad causes for the violence:

• Relative deprivation, specifically intense competition for jobs, commodities and housing.

• Group processes, including psychological categorisation processes that are nationalistic rather than superordinate.

• South African exceptionalism, or a feeling of superiority in relation to other Africans.

• Exclusive citizenship, or a form of nationalism that excludes others.

Another report by the International Organisation for Migration found that poor service delivery or an influx of foreigners may have played a contributing role, but blamed township politics for the attacks.

It also found that community leadership was potentially lucrative for unemployed people, and that such leaders organised the attacks.


In 2013, there were a number of attacks on foreign owned shops in the Western Cape.

During that year, some Somali-owned spaza shops were looted and torched in Valhalla Park, allegedly by gangsters.

Nine people were arrested in connection with the violence.

Four businesses owned by Somali, Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals were petrol bombed in Beacon Valley.

Community members reacted with anger to the incident, describing those behind the acts as selfish and narrow-minded.

Two years ago, two Zimbabwean men were killed by another foreign national in Diepsloot.

The two men were allegedly shot dead by a Somalian shopkeeper after a brief argument outside his shop.

Residents began protesting and looted 19 foreign-owned shops after the men were killed.

Earlier this year, a 14-year-old boy was killed by a foreign businessman who claimed his shop was robbed in Soweto.

Disgruntled residents went on the rampage and looted and set some shops alight.

The looting then spread to several other townships in Johannesburg.

WATCH: Foreign owned shops looted.

The violence claimed at least six lives.

Last week two Ethiopian nationals were petrol bombed in Umazi, KwaZulu-Natal when they were sleeping in a container used as a spaza shop.

The two are being treated for burn wounds.

The violence is believed to have been ignited by King Goodwill Zwelithini's calls for foreigners to leave the country, a claim the provincial government has dismissed.

President Jacob Zuma has now assigned a delegation of government officials to address a flare-up of xenophobic violence in parts of KwaZulu-Natal.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba and State Security Minister David Mahlobo are among those who will be working with the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government to see an end to violent attacks on foreigners.

Meanwhile, the Education Department reaffirmed its stance for history to be taught at all schools so South Africans can understand the role other African nations played in abolishing apartheid.

There have been calls for Ubuntu and social cohesion to be introduced as subjects in schools.

The department says it already teaches tolerance in life orientation and has asked churches and communities to help them in spreading the message.

WATCH: The aftermath of looting.