Politicians need to watch their tongues when addressing immigration issues in the country, lest their supporters react with xenophobic attacks.
This is according to sociologist Dr Sethulego Matebesi, commenting on the violent attacks on foreign nationals in Durban at the weekend which led to at least three deaths and several injuries.
On Saturday, Malawian nationals were attacked by Sydenham and Overport residents in Durban. Meanwhile, police had to move dozens of people, including infants, who were displaced after a xenophobic attack at Burnwood informal settlement in Durban.
“It is surprising, because two weeks ago when the premier of Gauteng mentioned the current problems they are having with immigration and the health system, I said it is very interesting because those people are so vulnerable and there are South Africans who want to hear those things being spoken by politicians,” said Matebesi.
“I think it is grossly irrational because it is those things that can lead to, or encourage, xenophobic attacks.”
The Durban attacks were met with outrage on social media, with many people, including political parties, linking them to recent statements by politicians addressing immigration issues.
Shared over a thousand times on Twitter yesterday was a video of President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing supporters during a campaign rally earlier this year. In it, he sends out a warning to foreign business owners in townships and rural areas.
“Everybody just arrives in our townships and rural areas and sets up businesses without licences and permits. We are going to bring this to an end. And those who are operating illegally, wherever they come from, must now know,” said Ramaphosa.
Matebesi said politicians, especially those leading the ruling party, would serve their purpose better if they dealt with immigration matters on other platforms, rather than at political rallies and while making public announcements.
He said there was little scientific evidence to link certain crime patterns to illegal immigration, so it was both morally and scientifically inaccurate to keep publicly blaming social ills on undocumented immigrants.
“Until South Africa has dealt with the problem of the borders, which are poorly managed, they cannot turn around and blame crime and other issues on immigrants,” said Matebesi.
This sentiment was echoed by the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson, Solly Malatsi, who said porous borders were at the root of South Africa’s xenophobia problem.
“The core issue here is that we have porous borders,” he said.