VENTURES AFRICA – For the past three weeks, South Africa has been embroiled in xenophobic violence carried out by locals against foreign immigrants. African countries, whose nationals are the main victims of the attacks, have been at the forefront of condemning these violent acts. But, while the actions of locals cannot be excused, and the South African government bears the direct responsibility for not protecting foreigners, the governments of the African immigrants under attack also deserve a share of the blame. It is the political instability and economic stagnation in their countries that have led to the exodus of their citizens, the ripple effect of which is this current crisis.
South Africa is host to between 2 and 5 million illegal migrants, many of whom are running from African countries with weak socio-economic and political systems. The governments of the immigrants are partly responsible for the attacks against them. With South Africa still far from effectively mending the cracks in its socio-economic disparity between long-privileged whites and long-subdued blacks, the large addition of immigrants to the mix has led to the cataclysm that is the current xenophobic violence.
The bulk of South Africa’s illegal migrants come from Zimbabwe, who are estimated to be up to 1.5 million. The influx of Zimbabweans into South Africa is caused by the dire living conditions in their country; where long-serving ruler Robert Mugabe has led the country from being one of the richest in Africa to among the poorest in the world. Had President Mugabe delivered effective governance and propelled his country to economic growth and development, his countrymen would not flee in droves to their better-to-do neighbours. US president Barack Obama warned of this scenario in 2014, when he told the Economist that the hardship in Zimbabwe, which was causing huge migrations to South Africa, could lead to tensions in the host country.
Nigerians constitute the second largest number of immigrants in South Africa, after Zimbabwe. With an estimated population of 300,000, they make up about 0.6 percent of the entire South African population. The massive movements, which began in the middle 1990s and is yet to cease, is largely due to the drought of opportunities at home than the greenness of pastures abroad. Not even the overtaking of South Africa’s economy, in size, has inspired Nigerians over there to return home. This is because the conditions that instigated the flight from fatherland still remains very much present. Nigeria’s power situation is far worse than South Africa’s, even with the latter’s current rolling blackouts. The infrastructural development is still incomparable; corruption is more endemic in the West African country; and for low-skilled workers and small business owners, the attainment of a healthy means of livelihood is more possible in the South than back home.
South Africa’s regional neighbours- Malawi and Mozambique also share in Nigeria’s vices. Somalis and people from the Democratic Republic of Congo also populate South Africa, thanks to the violence and political instability in their homeland. These massive migrations, and the pressure it brought on the South African people and economy, are among the main factors that have caused the current violence.
The governments of these countries have condemned the violence against their nationals, but they have done very little to create the opportunities that their people run to the South in search of. For these leaders, condemning xenophobia is not enough; they must work to make their land habitable for their citizens.