The Centre for Human Rights expresses serious displeasure at the recent xenophobic attacks and looting of foreign-owned shops in Soweto, Atteridgeville and other areas within the Gauteng province of South Africa.

The recent xenophobic violence has laid bare the aching soul of our nation and challenged each one of us to re-examine what we are doing to preserve the delicate social fabric of the post-1994 democratic South Africa. It is true that the greatest display of African unity was its undivided solidarity with the struggle against apartheid. It is sadly ironic, therefore, that those who lost their lives and property have done so at the hands of the very people whose humanity a united Africa had fought for.

The Centre for Human Rights wishes to remind the South African government that it is obligated to respond to this grave situation in line with its international obligations, specifically under the following treaties:

  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981.
  • OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, 1969.
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

Furthermore, the Centre for Human Rights wishes to remind the South African government and South Africans that the Constitution of our nation recognises human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms as fundamental to the fabric of the nation. Hence, anyone acting contrary to these values is in contravention of the Constitution. These attacks both revive the horrors of apartheid and raise the spectre of targeted killings reminiscent of the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

It should be recalled that in the 1994 genocide, the victims were referred to as inyenzi, the Kinyarwanda word for cockroach. It is appalling to see that foreign nationals in South Africa are often called kwere kwere – a cognomen used to refer to an animal sound. Reducing the humanity in others only makes violence against them easier and even ‘justified’.

Hence, the Centre for Human Rights calls upon the South African government to:

  • promptly and urgently ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, 1990;
  • respect its international human rights obligations under the relevant treaties;
  • use the full force of the law to clamp down on xenophobic attacks;
  • bring perpetrators of these attack to justice and guarantee the safety and security of foreign nationals;
  • meaningfully engage with communities in which these attacks have occurred to ensure future attacks are prevented.

The Centre for Human Rights strongly urges all South Africans to live the spirit of ubuntu – the essence of being human – which is fundamental to our coexistence as equal human beings living in an open, free and democratic country


For more information, please contact:

Prof Frans Viljoen
Director: Centre for Human Rights
University of Pretoria
Tel: (012) 420 3228
Email: frans.viljoen@up.ac.za


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