Foreigners turn on each other in embattled SA


Migrant workers clashes at the Robertson's Western Cape winelands. Photo by Leon Lestrade, ANA

from DION HENRICK in Cape Town
Western Cape Bureau
CAPE TOWN, (CAJ News)AN unprecedented clash between some foreign nationals – the Basotho and Zimbabweans- in South Africa adds a ghastly dimension to the migrant crisis sparked by the decline of the continent’s most advanced economy.

Clashes broke out between the foreign seasonal workers at the Robertson town, Cape Winelands in the Western Cape province over jobs left some 500 Zimbabweans displaced at a local police station and taxi ranks.

It is believed some of the migrants are illegally in South Africa.

The violence erupted in the township of Nkqubela, over discriminatory employment practices on the farms.

The workers from Lesotho alleged Zimbabweans were favoured for jobs.

An individual had to be hospitalized, several others were injured including children. Reports indicated some had sustained fractures.

Police have since dismissed as fake news reports that some people had died and that some children had been hacked during the conflict.

Scenes were reminiscent of a war zone as enraged protesters blocked the entrance to Nkqubela with burning tyres and hurling rocks at vehicles to try to prevent contractors from loading workers onto vehicles.

Some shacks were burnt, leaving scores homeless and destitute.

Police had their hands full to bring the situation under control.

Air support was dispatched to the area, indicating the severity of the clashes.

This is a country reeling from the worst outbreak of anarchy- last July when mobs looted shops in protest of the jailing of former president, the controversy-prone Jacob Zuma.

Calm has since returned to the area.

The Department of Labour, South African Police Service (SAPS) and farm owners are leading mediation efforts between the rivals.

Those displaced are rebuilding but face uncertain futures.

“It’s not safe here. One cannot be sure whether there won’t be any outbreak of violence again,” a Zimbabwean man immigrant said, preferring anonymity.

A local farmer denied that there was favouritism in the employment of seasonal workers.

“I don’t consider nationality or country of an individual’s origin,” the farmer said.

However, some Basotho alleged most jobs went to Zimbabweans as some individuals from that country held managerial posts.

“Thus, they make sure the jobs go to their compatriots,” a Basotho woman said.

The conflict between the Basotho and Zimbabweans in a foreign country- South Africa- has brought to the fore the tensions rife between locals and foreign nationals, the economic crunch worsened by COVID-19 and South Africa’s migration policies.

South Africa’s Department of Employment and Labour, in collaboration with the Department of Home Affairs Immigration Services and the SAPS met agricultural employers in Robertson to discuss the alleged employment of suspected illegal foreign nationals on the farms.

David Esau, appeared to suggest indeed the foreign nationals were illegal as “there are no records from the Department of Employment and Labour indicating that corporate visas were issued for any foreign nationals to work on the farms.”

“We need the labour brokers to tell us where they’ve placed people and on which farms so that we can go to those farms and use the Immigration Act to see if the people are legally in the country,” Esau explained.

The Commercial, Stevedoring, Agriculture and Allies Workers Union also blamed labour brokers.

Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) general secretary, said, “The violent clashes between Lesotho and Zimbabwean nationals in Robertson this past weekend is yet another example of how the economic squeeze is forcing workers to desperate levels as they compete for scarce resources and opportunities.”

The crisis comes at a time some locals are demanding that foreigners, including those legal in the country, return to their countries or be deported.

They claim the foreign nationals are worsening the plight of locals, amid rising unemployment.

Others blame foreign nationals for putting a strain on resources and the rise in crime.

Some South Africans have blamed the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for alleged failure to deal with the issue of undocumented foreign nationals.

South Africa’s borders are also leaky. Corruption at the points of entry is rife.

“While ANC leaders are busy with their nonsense, foreigners are running amok in this country,” a South African stated.

“Basotho and Zimbabweans fighting for jobs which belong to South Africans. They (foreign nationals) do all this nonsense because they have seen ANC has no time to govern this country,” he added.

Locals demanding the departure of foreign nationals have been branded as xenophobic.

According to Statistics South Africa, the unemployment rate hit a new record high of 34,9 percent in the third quarter (Q3) from 34,4 percent in Q2, including discouraged job seekers, the rate rose 2,2 percentage points to 46,6 percent.

On Monday, South Africa commemorated the annual Human Rights Day.

President Cyril Ramapahosa said employers that knowingly hire undocumented foreign workers contributed towards social tensions between citizens and foreign nationals.

“When employers knowingly hire undocumented foreign workers, they are breaking the law,” he said in the North West province.

“Those who want to live and work in our country must, however, be documented, and have the right to be here [and] work here,” Ramaphosa said.

He said as a country founded on tolerance, respect for diversity and non-discrimination, South Africa must never turn against people from beyond its borders.

“Like those countries that gave us shelter during the dark times of apartheid, we must be a welcoming country, particularly of refugees fleeing persecution elsewhere,” the president said.

– CAJ News

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