It is not to misuse Bertolt Brecht’s insight nor an exaggeration to point out that the animal that gave birth to the 2008 xenophobic violence is in heat again. According to recent media reports, the residents of Alexandra—where the 2008 xenophobic violence started, are threatening to violently evict foreigners from the houses they claim should be theirs. In 2008 the residents had initiated pogroms against foreign national under the pretense that they were carrying out a legitimate community intervention to control the rising tide of crime, which they blamed foreigners for.
What is different this time around is that residents are bold and speak freely about the threat of xenophobic violence. According to the Sowetan, the residents have put up posters warning foreigners to vacate RDP houses in extension 10 of Alexandra. It is also reported that threatening letters and pamphlets have been delivered to the houses occupied by foreign national. The Sowetan reports that one of the letters warns that: “We demand that you vacate at your own free will without being pushed like animals or aliens”.
What makes the situation dangerously volatile is that these threats against foreign nationals are being made when the moratorium on deporting undocumented Zimbabweans has been lifted by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA). Whether these two developments are related remains a moot point. It is however worth pointing out that the xenophobic attacks of 2008 could have, in many cases, been triggered by the raids of immigration officials. Hence PASSOP is concerned that immigration raids have the potential to serve as a catalyst to a new round of violent xenophobic attacks à la 2008 pogroms.
It is unclear if the DHA has observed this frightening pattern. What is crystal clear though is that since the lifting of the moratorium on deporting undocumented Zimbabweans, there has been an increase in the number of immigration raids all over the country. For instance, in Cape Town mothers with little children are being arrested without warning, detained and deported. Since there is no deportation centre in Cape Town, this means that once arrested in immigration raids, deportees are held with hardened criminals in Pollsmoor prison.
It is a human rights violation to detain refugees and migrants in a place like Pollsmoor prison where hardened criminals who have committed crimes such as murder and rape are imprisoned. Additionally, Pollsmoor prison is chronically overcrowded, documented to be a site of mass rape of inmates by members of prison gangs, and does not meet any of the minimum standards of temporary detention for ‘illegal foreigners’.
Further, it reveals mala fides on the part of the South African government that the moratorium was lifted when the Zimbabwe Dispensation Project (ZDP) is incomplete. Research shows that “as of October 4, 145 000 permits were dispatched of 275 762 that were received, though processing was still taking place.” Additionally, the South Africa’s director-general of home affairs, Mkuseli Apleni, gave his word to parliament that deportations would not resume until the ZDP was completed.
What has changed now?