The Democracy, Transparency and Digital Rights Unit of the Centre for Human Rights (the Centre), University of Pretoria, hosted an African Day Celebration on 23 May 2019. The aim of the event was to celebrate the diversity of Africa and what it means to be African. The event further aimed to facilitate a conversation on Pan-Africanism and how South Africans as a people, can stand in solidarity with African migrants on the injustices and inhuman experiences of xenophobia in South Africa.

Ms Bonolo Makgale of the Centre’s Democracy, Transparency and Digital Rights Unit in her opening remarks asserted that the South African government has not done enough to address the issue of xenophobia within its borders. She reflected on the recent press conference hosted by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, where Minister Lindiwe Sisulu told the international community that there exists no xenophobia in South Africa, only acts of criminality, implicating that the two are mutually exclusive. The refusal of the state to acknowledge xenophobia is an indication that it does not realise the gravity of the matter and the fact that it has reached alarming proportions.

Ms Makgale further noted that South Africa has a culture of hate, and is part of the structural exclusion and othering that existed in Africa for centuries and continued in post-colonial and post-apartheid South Africa. She noted that there might be a link between racism and xenophobia which thrives violently in South Africa and made possible by this culture of hate. This she said could be gleaned from a 2018 Pew Research study, which revealed that 62% of participants (South Africans) felt that foreign nationals did not belong in their neighbourhoods and a further 61% who stated that they were the probable cause of increased crime rates.

Dr Isaac Shai, a Postdoctoral fellow at the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute (TMALI) delivered the keynote address. He noted that in speaking of Africa and all its problems, we should not tire of consistently making reference to the centrality of colonialism as a formative in the existence of all formerly colonised peoples. Dr Shai passionately reflected on the words of the Cameroonian philosopher and political theorist Professor Achille Mbende, and reminded us that we need not forget that out of the project of modernity, entire populations were categorised as species, kinds, or races and classified along vertical lines. Thus, it is within this context that we must appreciate the golden thread connecting racism and xenophobia. Both racism and xenophobia seek to exclude the other by virtue of origin and identity.  These two phenomena are a  consequence of European mythology which revels in “othering” and race-ing.

Ms Ruvimbo Samanga, LLM student (Trade and Investment Law in Africa) at the Centre, lamented her experience as a Zimbabwean student living and studying in South Africa. For her, the continued othering and labelling that exist in institutions of higher learning is appalling, as most times she is viewed as a Zimbabwean student and not a human being with equal rights. Ms Samanga noted that by virtue of section 9 of the South African Constitution, everyone, including non-South Africans are “equal before the law and entitled to equal benefit and protection of the law.” This provision is not conditional on citizenship and thus non-South Africans should be able to approach law enforcement for relief where their rights have been violated.

Ms Abigal Dawson of the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants stated that the media has an important role to play in ending xenophobia. She emphasised that journalists should take a more proactive role in the narrative de-construction of xenophobia and that there exists denialism of the existence of xenophobia in South Africa. Ms Dawson pointed to the limited prosecutions for those who perpetuate xenophobia in South Africa as a reflection of the limited mechanisms by the South African government to effectively address the issue. She concluded that preventing xenophobia in South Africa requires education, increased reporting and monitoring of early warning signs of xenophobia.

Mr Songezo Mabece of the SAFM programme ‘The View Point’ attempted to locate xenophobia in history and reminded the audience that the Republic of South Africa was assisted by other African nations in its transition to democracy. He gave the example of Kenya, which had a South African fund that supported the activities of the African National Congress (ANC) during the apartheid era. He also noted that the South African national anthem recognises Africanism, as ‘Nkosi Sikelela Africa’ is a prayer for Africa as a whole. Sadly, for him, South Africa has failed to honour this prayer.

In addressing xenophobia, it is also important to look at the impact of gender equality and discrimination. In terms of health services, the experience of non-South Africans within the South African health care system is generally one of stereotyping and discrimination. Often it is women and children who bear the brunt of this.

According to Ms Mpiwa Mangwiro of Sonke Gender Justice, violence against women and children is still prevalent as a result of patriarchy rendering them to be economically dependent and furthering their vulnerability. She noted that migrant women’s experience of sexual violence is often affected by xenophobia and even normalised as the South African criminal justice system is often unlikely to assist women where the victim is non-South African.

The Centre for Human Rights is committed to continuing to facilitate Pan-African conversations and to actively participate in the fight against xenophobia. The Centre as an institution that advocates for human rights will work towards the protection of the rights’ of our fellow brothers and sisters from other parts of Africa who are violated by virtue of their identity.

During 2019, the Centre will present a number of events that form part of its year-long campaign on #AfricanMighrantsMatter. The Centre will host a one-day conference on ‘Protecting persons forcibly displaced in Africa’ at the 28th African Human Rights Moot Court Competition as well as a two-day conference, on 6 and 7 September 2019 on the theme: “Beyond 50 and 10, beyond the rhetoric: The protection of forced migrants in Africa”.


For more information, please contact: 

Ms Bonolo Makgale
Programme Manager Democracy and Civic Engagement Unit

Tel: +27 (0) 12 420 4199
Fax: +27 (0) 86 580 5743



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