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South Africa: human rights commission urges political parties to act against xenophobia
30 July 2010

If refugees are welcomed into country, communities will prosper from the talents and skills they bring, Johannesburg, South Africa (Peter Balleis SJ/ JRS)
Johannesburg, 17 July 2010 – The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) recently invited South African politicians to commit their parties to doing their utmost to stamp out xenophobic violence in the country.

According to SAHRC, it is essential that the power of political parties is harnessed in favour of the promotion of integration and tolerance. There is clear evidence that political power vacuums and poor delivery of services contributed to the outbreaks of xenophobic violence in May 2008. Furthermore, the attacks were, in some instances, exploited for local political advantage.

SAHRC also used occasion to refer to the findings of its investigations, published last March, into the May 2008 outbreak of violence against non-nationals. The report made a wide range of recommendations to government and other national actors, and was sent to parliament in the hope that it would be debated and its recommendations adopted.

The recommendations included preventive steps such as a more systematic and integrated conflict response system, with improved early warning systems; efforts to raise awareness of the risks of anti-democratic leadership; complaint procedures for members of political parties; and the strengthening of the justice and police systems to ensure the perpetrators of xenophobic violence are punished.

In relation to the return of displaced persons after the eruption of violence, the report also recommended, a more comprehensive assessment should take place before an area is declared safe.

“Any reasonable person who reads these recommendations would add his or her support to the call for parliamentary debate on the contents of the report”, said JRS Southern African Director, David Holdcroft SJ.

Xenophobic violence, a complex issue

In particular, JRS supports the SAHRC appeal not to “pit the poor against the poor”. Xenophobic violence should not be seen as criminalising South Africa’s poorest populations. As demonstrated in a report by the Forced Migration Studies Programme at Witwatersrand University, violence against foreigners is not adequately explained by high unemployment or poverty. This conclusion is based on empirical research into the distinctive characteristics of the 138 wards where violence was perpetrated in May 2008, compared with neighbouring violence-free wards.

“It is clear xenophobic violence in South Africa is a complex issue requiring a wide range of responses and interventions. At the very least, debate on the SAHRC report in parliament would contribute to heightened awareness of this issue and help develop the political determination to address it”, added Fr Holdcroft.

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