By Charles Kumolu,
Till date, most constitutional law scholars are unanimous in describing the South African constitution as the most humanist. This unanimity of perspectives ultimately speaks to how the 14-chapter constitution attaches prime importance to the right of humans rather than other matters.
Despite being amended 17 times, the constitution which was promulgated in 1996 has not lost its humanist characteristics.
For instance, its Bill of Rights which is contained in Chapter 2 covers the civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights.
Bill of Rights
A perusal of the document by Sunday Vanguard found it not just aspirational but protectionist of the rights of persons.
Put plainly, the Bill of Rights was found to promote the principles of humanism just the way it recognises the interrelationship between all human rights.
So impressed by its letters, the author of Africa: the Altered States, Ordinary Miracles” Richard Dowden, described the constitution as the most humanist the world ever had.
“In its transition from being the last Nazi-inspired political system of the twentieth century, South Africa produced the most humanist constitution the world had ever seen, guaranteeing personal freedoms but also protecting minority rights and the weak and the vulnerable. It aims to encourage the best in human beings while curbing their darker tendencies,” he stated in the book that was forwarded by Nigeria’s Prof Chinua Achebe.
Since xenophobia is now synonymous with South Africa irrespective of the spirit of its constitution, many are left with these questions:
How did a country adjudged by many in 1994 as the hope of the human race, become emblematic of the paradox of human nature?
Better still, how come the right to be protected against violence, freedom from torture, freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, the right to bodily integrity, enshrined in Section 12, Chapter two of the constitution, give way to perennial xenophobic attacks?
Why are South Africans becoming the obstacles to achieving the principles and values espoused by their Bill of Rights?
Sunday Vanguard believes a complex mix of factors is responsible.
The same position is held by most people, who spoke to this newspaper on the matter, but South Africans appear not to see anything wrong in being xenophobic.
To them, the attacks are justifiable manifestations against foreigners, who they blame for crimes and taking over their jobs.
It is no news that such a notion enjoys the support of the country’s tribal leaders and public officials.
What is, however, noteworthy is the fact the post-apartheid South African state emerged with xenophobic tendencies and may remain so.
To paraphrase Oluwasuen Tella of the Department of Political Science, the University of South Africa, xenophobia in South Africa, is pervasive and requires a conscious and comprehensive diagnosis at the individual, state and inter-state levels.
Tracing the origin of anti-immigrant attitude to post-majority rule days in his work: Understanding Xenophobia in South Africa: The Individual, the State, and the International System, Tella maintained that the socioeconomic realities of most South Africans predispose them to be intolerant of foreigners.
“Majority rule promised better opportunities and lives for all South Africans. However, the majority of black South Africans remain poor amidst growing unemployment. Given this reality, South Africans seek an avenue to channel their frustration and black foreigners are an easy target.
“Individuals, ranging from the president to government officials, traditional rulers and ordinary citizens, exhibit xenophobic attitudes, express xenophobic statements, make xenophobic policies and embark on xenophobic attacks,” he added.
Dealing with the same question in Africa: the Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, Dowden cited the country’s education system as being chiefly responsible for the widespread xenophobia in South Africa.
Speaking specifically on the xenophobic attack of 2008, he observed that: “The problem lies deeper than racial redistribution. South Africa’s education system is not producing sufficient numbers of skilled people, especially black skilled people. Other Africans–Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, and Nigerians–were getting paid better paid, skilled jobs, as well as taking low paid ones. Frustration among the uneducated and unemployed grew. The anger was not dire targeted at whites but against fellow Africans.”
Ever since the observation was made, the same indicators identified to be feeding the crisis are still there.
Claimed 309 lives
This perhaps accounts for the increasing perennial nature of the attacks which Xenowatch, said have claimed 309 lives between 1994 and 2018.
A report by the platform that monitors xenophobic threats and violence across South Africa, seen by Sunday Vanguard, said 529 xenophobic incidents resulted in those number of deaths.
The breakdown said 901 physical assaults took place, while 2,193 shops were looted leaving 100,000 displaced.
The piece said xenophobic violence is increasingly spreading across South Africa’s nine provinces but listed Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces as the most affected.
The figures from the latest anti-immigrants attacks have already increased the statistics, amid fears of more incidents.
At the moment the cost of the crisis which was said to have begun following a false report that a Nigerian killed a South African driver is being counted by survivors.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, last Thursday, said 10 people were killed, adding that two were foreigners.
However, the President of Nigerian Citizens Association in South Africa, NICASA, Mr Ben Okoli, told Sunday Vanguard that the Nigerian community is currently ascertaining the quantum of loss.
Okoli’s account of the incident and conversations with the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Mr Femi Adesina and a former diplomat, Olusegun Akinsanya shed light on various dimensions of the crisis.
Below is the timeline of xenophobic attacks since 1994, obtained from South African History Online, SAHO.
1994 to 1995
In December 1994 and January 1995, armed youth gangs in Alexandra Township outside of Johannesburg, Gauteng Province, destroyed the homes and property of suspected undocumented migrants and marched the individuals down to the local police station where they demanded that the foreigners be forcibly and immediately removed.
In September 1998, two Senegalese and a Mozambican were thrown from a moving train in Johannesburg by a group of individuals returning from a rally organised by a group blaming foreigners for the levels of unemployment, crime, and even the spread of AIDS.
In August 2000, seven xenophobic killings were reported in the Cape Flats District of Cape Town. Seven foreigners from different African countries were killed on the Cape Flats. Amongst those who were attacked by local South Africans were two Nigerians, one Kenyan, and two Angolans.
On 8 January 2008, two Somali shop owners were murdered in the Eastern Cape towns of Jeffreys Bay and East London.
In March 2008, seven people were killed including Zimbabweans, Pakistanis and a Somali after their shops and shacks were set alight in Atteridgeville near Pretoria.
On May 11, 2008, an outburst of xenophobic violence in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra triggered more xenophobic violence in other townships.
It first spread in the Gauteng Province. After two weeks, the violence jumped to other urban areas across the country, mainly Durban, Cape Town and Limpopo Province.
From 14 -17 November 2009, 3000 Zimbabwean citizens living in the rural community of De Doorns, an informal settlement near Breede Valley Municipality, in the Western Cape were displaced as a result of xenophobic violence. They selectively targeted Zimbabweans despite the presence of other foreign nationals ( Lesotho nationals) living and working in the same area.
On 27 February 2013, eight South African police officers tied a 27- year- old Mozambican man, Mido Macia, to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road. Subsequently, the man died in a police cell from head injuries. The incident happened in Daveyton, East of Johannesburg, South Africa.
On 26 May 2013, two Zimbabwean men were killed by South Africans mob in xenophobic violence in Diepsloot, South Africa.
In January 2015, Somali shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy, Siphiwe Mahori, during an alleged robbery in Soweto Township.
The boy was shot in the neck and died within 15 minutes. Lebogang Ncamla, 23, was another victim when he was shot three times in the arm.
The incident triggered the waves of attacks and looting of foreign-owned shops.
On March 5, 2015, xenophobic attacks occurred in Limpopo Province. Foreigners on the outskirts of Polokwane left their shops after protesting villagers threatened to burn them alive and then looted them. Violence erupted in the Ga-Sekgopo area after a foreign shop owner was found in possession of a mobile phone belonging to a local man who was killed.
On April 8, 2015, a spate of xenophobic violence occurred after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made comments that foreigners should go back to their home countries because they are changing the nature of South African society with their goods and enjoying the wealth that should have been for local people.
On 12 April 2015, Attacks on foreign nationals continued in KwaZulu-Natal when shops in Umlazi and KwaMashu, outside Durban, were torched.
In V Section, a shop owned by a foreign national was set on fire by a mob of suspects. Five people were killed.
On 14 April 2015, Looting of foreign shops spread to Verulam, north of Durban following a day of clashes between locals, foreigners, and police in the city centre, KwaZulu-Natal. About 300 local people looted foreign-owned shops, and only two people were arrested.
In June 2016 there were xenophobic riots in the City of Tshwane. Foreign-owned shops and small businesses were targeted for looting while a number of them were attacked.
In February 2017 a large scale and officially sanctioned anti-immigrant protest were organised and held in the Pretoria. Protesters marched to the Foreign Ministry and handed a petition to government representatives. Protesters accused immigrants of taking jobs from South Africans, causing crime