Nigeria: South Africa’s President Criticizes Vigilante Groups for Attacking Migrants

Last week, a 43-year-old Zimbabwean man, Elvis Nyathi, was attacked by a mob and set alight by a group of vigilantes.

The South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has criticized vigilante groups for harassing and attacking migrants, likening their behaviour to strategies adopted by the apartheid regime to target Black people, Al Jazeera reported.

Last week, a 43-year-old Zimbabwean man, Elvis Nyathi, was attacked by a mob and set alight by a group of vigilantes searching for foreign nationals in Diepsloot, a township near Johannesburg.

The vigilantes had gone door to door demanding to see people’s identity documents after seven people in the township had been murdered the previous weekend.

On Wednesday, hundreds of residents protested against rising crime rates in Diepsloot, accusing police of failing to contain crime, which they blamed on undocumented immigrants.

“We have seen people being stopped on the street by private citizens and being forced to produce identification to verify their immigration status,” Al Jazeera quoted Mr Ramaphosa as saying in his weekly newsletter on Monday.

“This was how the apartheid oppressors operated.”

“Under apartheid, black people were deemed suspects by default and stopped by police when found in so-called white areas,” he said, referring to the system of oppressive white-minority rule that was abolished in 1994.

Black people “were forced to produce a dompas (a passport-like document that restricted their movements) and if they could not do so, they were jailed.”

Mr Ramaphosa warned that neither the vigilante groups nor politicians inciting local communities to attack foreigners would be tolerated. “We cannot allow such injustices to happen again,” he said.

The murder of the seven South Africans in Diepsloot was a tragedy, he said.

“This loss of life is deplorable, as is the killing of a fellow African from Zimbabwe allegedly at the hands of vigilantes,” Mr Ramaphosa said.

“Today, our anger may be directed at nationals from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria or Pakistan. Tomorrow, our anger may be directed at each other,” he warned.

The president warned that scapegoating migrants for poor service delivery, unemployment and crime could ignite xenophobic violence.

“Attacking those we suspect of wrongdoing merely because they are a foreign national is … immoral, racist and criminal. In the end, it will lead to xenophobia,” he said.

Competition for jobs, especially in low-skilled sectors, is also a factor in sharpening anti-immigrant resentment.