Detaining immigrants in camps is not the solution to stopping xenophobic attacks in South Africa, a leading South African diversity expert told RFI on Thursday. Gwede Mantashe, the secretary general of the ruling African National Congress, has suggested that putting immigrants in camps and tightening immigration laws is the answer to a wave of anti-immigrant violence.
“Camps are absolutely not the way to go with a problem like this,” says Melissa Steyn, director of the Wits Center for Diversity Studies. “It creates all sorts of humanitarian issues, it also reinforces the idea of foreign nationals as being others to the nation,” she adds.
At least six people have been killed in Durban over the past two weeks in attacks targeting shops and homes owned by African nationals.
Both the Malawian and Mozambican governments have said they will help repatriate their citizens from South Africa.
Violence and looting has also spread to the economic capital Johannesburg with the police saying that six suspects had been arrested for allegedly breaking into foreigners’ shops.
The ANC has condemned the attacks calling them “shameful”, stating that the challenges faced by South Africans cannot be blamed on “people of foreign nationality”.
“Tightening immigration laws” is the solution, ANC head Mantashe told South African media. “If need be, establish refugee camps,” he says. “Home Affairs must be able to screen and record who comes to South Africa.”
Although diversity expert Steyn does not think immigration camps will stop xenophobic attacks, she agrees that immigration legislation needs to be enforced, but says this is frequently used as an excuse.
“We do have a lot of people who are not registered and in the country legally,” she says by telephone from Johannesburg. “But quite frankly I think that a lot of those discourses are just excuses on the part of South Africans who are xenophobic,” she adds.
King Goodwill Zwelithini, a traditional leader in KwaZulu-Natal, has been blamed for inciting the attacks.
Last month he was reported to have given a speech in which he demanded that immigrants “pack their bags and leave”.
Source : Radio France Internationale