| December 15, 2016

The South African Refugee Council says relations between South Africans and foreign nationals, mostly from other African countries, are improving.

This follows xenophobic attacks in townships and other parts of South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province two years ago when several people were killed and others left displaced. The South Africans had attacked the foreign nationals, accusing them of taking away their jobs and committing crimes.

However, data from Statistics South Africa which carried out a National Victims of Crime Survey have revealed that although some foreign nationals engage in crime, most do not.

Running of small stores and hair salons in townships is back to normal for foreign nationals, thanks to the South African government and various non-profit organizations which had intervened.

Socio-economic challenges are believed to have been the underlying cause of hatred among South Africans nationals which led to attacks on foreigners.

As the country prepares to observe Reconciliation Day on Dec 16, some foreigners believe there is still a lot which needs to be done to ensure harmonious relations between locals and foreigners.

This week, a foreign national employed as security guard in KwaMashu Township, north of Durban, was attacked and killed in a mini-bus taxi. The deceased's brother, Jean Pierre Juma Alex, says violence against foreigners continues unnoticed.

The spreading of misinformation on social media platforms has also been blamed for contributing to xenophobic attacks among South Africans and foreign nationals.

Some foreigners say as long as government mistakes xenophobia for criminality the problem will never be resolved. "The problem is not yet addressed. It still needs to be addressed before reconciliation because we came to reconcile over something that we have not talked about," says one foreigner.

"The government said it was not xenophobia. It was criminals or criminality, so it is very difficult to say we are going to reconcile with criminals."

Another foreigner adds: "South Africans change their behaviour because we are also human beings in our country there are wars and we fled to South Africans, now they are killing us again. I do not feel safe."

South African Refugee Council chairperson Baruti Amisi says there are great improvements in relations between South Africans and foreigners. Amisi says Reconciliation Day will cement trust and love that have been built after the 2014 xenophobic attacks.

"The relationship is improving because our brothers and sisters who did not understand the issues before are coming on board, grassroots organizations coming together in support this cause. They may be suffering because of foreigners coming to South Africa," he adds.

"It's a system that's affecting us worldwide everybody and more importantly the poor. My message for the reconciliation day is we are one as Africans. We need to remain united to fight the cause of Africa."

The non-profit organization Gift of The Givers was at the forefront in helping the displaced by providing them with food at the camps. Its founder, Imtiaz Suliman, says although they had their hands full during the attacks, he is happy with the renewed trust between locals and foreigners.

He says there is a notable decrease in attacks between the two communities as they are now accepting one another as brothers and sisters from different parts of the African continent.

"During that time we found the situation extremely severely, people were running in their thousands, there was more fatality. There were all types of antagonism against foreign nationals but at the same time we had all range of South Africans rallied around the foreign nationals stood by them and support them," he says.

"The voice of reason among the country spoke up and people said look foreign nationals helped during the liberation struggle. In the last few months we really haven't seen any xenophobic attack. So I think it's a good cause for reconciliation for people to go forward we are one country and one nation."

Competition for employment, basic social services, and business opportunities between various communities are still believed to be some of the reasons that make foreigners victims of crime. With Reconciliation Day days away, foreigners who run businesses in townships believe that the situation has improved as they no longer have to live behind locked gates as had been the case for the past few years.


Category: Human Rights

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