South Africa: Urgently take steps to combat impunity for xenophobic violence

Refugees from xenophobic violence prepare to leave the Rand Airport camp near Germiston, east of Johannesburg, South Africa |FILE Photo|© EPA/JON HRUSA

South African authorities will need to do much more if impunity for xenophobic violence and other relating longstanding human rights violations are to be effectively combatted, Amnesty International-South Africa has said today. Widespread attacks against refugees, migrants and their businesses most recently in the Durban area have finally triggered some action from government officials.

In the past two weeks, at least four people have been killed, many others seriously injured, shops looted and over 1,000 people displaced in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province.

We acknowledge that the police are conducting arrests. However the authorities must launch full, transparent and independent investigations, and bring suspected perpetrators to account
Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane, Executive Director of Amnesty International-South Africa

“We acknowledge that the police are conducting arrests. However the authorities must launch full, transparent and independent investigations, and bring suspected perpetrators to account,” said Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane, Executive Director of Amnesty International-South Africa.

“The prevailing culture of impunity must be stopped.”

Amnesty International has repeatedly appealed to the South African government, including in January this year, to develop a systematic plan involving the police and other agencies to prevent and protect refugees from targeted attacks.

The blatant attacks, which have included violence against journalists covering incidents and against some police intervening, follow months of similar violence in other provinces of South Africa, including in Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces.

On 13 April 2015, the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal province, Senzo Mchunu, established a task team of experts, under the leadership of the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to investigate the causes of the violence in the province.

The violence against refugees is unusual in KwaZulu-Natal and appears to have been triggered by the reported statement of the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, that government must take steps so that all foreigners” leave South Africa. 

On 13 April 2015, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe reportedly stated that there was a need for camps in response to the attacks against refugees.

“In our view, this turns the problem on its head, undermines South Africa’s integration model for refugee protection and may inadvertently encourage further attacks against them.”

After repeated calls from civil society, Amnesty International and humanitarian agencies for the appointment of an inter-ministerial committee to address the continuing crisis, President Jacob Zuma condemned the violence and sent a high-level delegation to work with the provincial government to address the situation on 12 April 2015. The members of the delegation include the ministers of Home Affairs, State Security and the Police.

Local government authorities also bear a responsibility to address tensions and threats rapidly as they emerge. Ultimately all levels of government bear a responsibility to fulfill South Africa’s obligation to ensure the constitutional right for all “to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources”, without discrimination.