The spate of violence that erupted at the end of January in the informal settlement of Joe Slovo in the Western Cape, has once again highlighted the problem of xenophobia in South Africa. In a country that is said to have put most of its energies into racial reconciliation, the issue of xenophobia appears to have simply been side-stepped.
Four people were killed in clashes between immigrants and local groups in Joe Slovo. Last year, similar tensions in the suburb of Du Noon in the Western Cape forced 70 Angolans to flee the area. Local authorities have since resettled them in a temporary tent camp in Milnerton, but there have been reports that the harassment has resumed.
Elsewhere, the Zandspruit informal settlement outside Johannesburg saw a spate of attacks against Zimbabwean illegal immigrants last October. Seventy-four homes were burnt down and more were looted.
Two months earlier, rioting had broken out in the Kwanobuhle township in Port Elizabeth in which hundreds of rioters attacked Somali-owned shops, looting homes and a mosque.
The increasingly widespread aggression has caused the deaths of dozens of immigrants around the country in the past year alone.
"This is a very serious problem, and it is no longer isolated to just one or two areas," says Zonke Majodina, a commissioner with the South African Human Rights Commission. "Violence against immigrants and refugees is now widespread in settlements around Gauteng and the Eastern and Western Capes."
Despite the geographical diversity of the xenophobic attacks, they all appear to have similar patterns.
First of all, they occur exclusively in low-income areas, where the majority of residents are unemployed and have limited access to basic socioeconomic resources, such as sanitation, health-care and training. Immigrants are regarded as "stealing" jobs and, in part, employers often prefer them.
According to Majodina, "basic employment laws are impossible to enforce in the case of illegal immigrants, making them open to exploitation. They can be paid less for longer hours, and therefore get the jobs".
Another similarity is that the attacks target only black immigrants. South Africa has seen a significant rise in immigration from Eastern Europe but white immigrants have experienced very few problems. This is, of course, due to the still prevailing legacy of the apartheid era -- South Africa's isolation from the rest of Africa has entrenched an ignorance of other African countries that is...