In South Africa under containment, the virus of xenophobia

En Afrique du Sud sous confinement, le virus de la xénophobie

JOHANNESBURG | The car is engulfed behind the grille of the chapel, immediately caught by a forest of arms. One by one, they snapped up the bags, outside of the trunk and the rear seat and line up as if on parade on the floor of the court.

For the families sheltered in this small parish in the neighbourhood of Mayfair, close to the centre of Johannesburg, this is the time of the distribution of food parcels. In the eyes of women and children, a glimmer of relief. One of those who will eat to their hunger.

“Here, a lot of people are suffering because of the confinement. Most are migrants or refugees and they can’t work,” says their spokesman, Alfred Djanga.

“Before, they were employees in shops, where they sold at the corner of the street. But they have the right”, says the lawyer of 50 years, which has left the democratic Republic of the Congo there are nineteen years of age. “Without papers, they have no other choice than to make the sleeve”.

To slow down the pandemic coronavirus, South Africa has been living for two months, under confinement.

Even recently relaxed, it has put the unemployment forced large swathes of the country’s population, considered by the world Bank as the most unequal of the planet.

In the poorest neighborhoods, many of those who lived the everyday life of menial jobs are hungry. Among them, a lot of foreigners from the rest of Africa to try their luck in the first industrial power of the continent.

“Discriminated against”

At the head of a Forum of the african diaspora, the Somali Amir Sheikh organized in the urgency of solidarity.

“From the beginning of the confinement, we began to make food for the migrants, and then we started the distribution of food parcels,” he said in the office of the koranic school in the Mayfair district that serves as its headquarters.

Each week, her network, funded by religious organizations, provides 3 500 parcel and 750 meals to the migrants.

“It is very important, because all of these people are neglected,” says Amir Sheikh. “Hunger has no color, but the government of South Africa, we discriminate against because of our country of origin,” he says. We could not stand idly by.”

In the framework of an emergency plan that is unprecedented, the south african president Cyril Ramaphosa has announced the establishment of distributions of food and a monthly allowance of 350 rand (about € 18) for the poor.

Neither the head of State or his ministers have not referred to any nationality condition for eligibility.

But migrants and NGOS are adamant: these grants are exclusively reserved for South Africans, while the nation “arc-en-ciel” dreamed by Nelson Mandela, has some 4 million foreigners, mostly without residence permits.

In a township of Lenasia, in the distant suburbs of Johannesburg, Edward Mowo, 49 years old, lives in his expert hands, which give life to televisions, radios or telephones were sentenced to death by the trade official.

Under the roof of corrugated iron sheets of her shack, the Zimbabwean admits to having struggled to feed his wife and three children. “People work more, they have more money, then how do you want I want to be paid?”


“My children are born here, but we don’t receive anything because it is not South African,” growls the father of the family. “Even with my papers, I am not entitled to anything”.

Responsible for the assistance to migrants at the NGO Lawyers for human rights, Sharon Ekambaram accuses the authorities of his country to systematically refuse any foreign aid.

“I have not to this day aware of any refugee whose allocation request has been accepted”, she says, “the situation is really serious”.

Questioned by AFP, the ministry of social Development has reserved its comments to the justice, before a procedure on the conditions of distribution of aid.

“As soon as the announcement of emergency aid, we had two, three days more than 700 calls from people who were asking just to eat,” growls Sharon Ekambaram, “we have seen children arrive at the hospital in a state of malnutrition, it never happened in South Africa since the advent of democracy”.

More than a quarter of a century after the formal end of the racist regime of apartheid, the balance of the government to black majority is far from being up to par.

Inequality, poverty and corruption flourish. To all these evils, it is necessary to add a slow poison, that of xenophobia. Regularly, the country is prey to deadly riots aimed at “its” foreigners.

The last episode, last September, has earned Cyril Ramaphosa to be booed at the funeral of his late counterpart in zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. “South Africa is not xenophobic,” he then pleaded apologetically.

“Xenophobia institutional”

To see. Because the official policy remains, at best, ambiguous.

In early may, the Finance minister, Tito Mboweni has regretted the preponderance of foreign labor in the restoration. “The share of South Africans must become a majority”, he launched in Parliament.

The health crisis has only confirmed this speech, underlines Dewa Mavhinga, of Human Rights Watch. “Number of migrants are deprived of access to food, they face starvation. This is a blatant violation of their rights, which is a tendency to xenophobia institutional”, lance-t-il, exasperated. “If the government does not have the means to help them, that it makes appeal for international assistance”.

Excluded from the benefit of the allowances, many foreigners are added to the endless lines that form at each distribution of products of first necessity.

The solidarity Fund set up by the government to coordinate emergency food aid is well not to require proof of identity of the beneficiaries. “Our humanitarian aid campaign is aimed at vulnerable families victims of severe food insecurity in South Africa, regardless of their nationality,” says one of its leaders, Thandeka Ncube.

But the illegals prefer to keep at a distance, for fear of being denounced. “Without a stay, their main fear is to be expelled. They must hide from the police,” says Abdurahman Musa Jibro, the leader of the community of the Oromo (Ethiopia) to South Africa.

It also assures not to have received any assistance from the authorities.

“Humanity and paper”

“We knocked on the doors of all institutions for the help, it has never had anything,” says Mr Jibro.

Worse, accuse-t-il, “some merchants will even require to see your papers before you sell the food…”

Thanks to the generosity of his community, his association has been able to feed a thousand ethiopian families, for the most part undocumented migrants or asylum seekers.

“We were brought parcels of food, it is how we survive,” says an Ethiopian 47-year-old who prefers to remain anonymous. She fled the repression in his country and lives since 2008 in Johannesburg with his three children without a residence permit.

“The south african government should help us because we live here. Humanity should be the priority, before the papers… this is really hard”.

Faced with the distress of their citizens locked up in South Africa, some of the consulates of the neighbouring countries have recently expressed their willingness to arrange their repatriation.

“It is a possibility that I am considering,” says Collin Makumbirofa, a Zimbabwean 41-year-old, who has lived for more than ten years in the township over-crowded Alexandra in Johannesburg.

“We foreigners, we contribute a lot to the south african economy. It is unfair that the government does not help those who live on its soil”, a plague there. “It is hard, we are hungry… the life here is really become unbearable”.

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