Johannesburg – The government said on Sunday it would help foreigners driven from their homes by xenophobic violence, a week after hundreds were attacked near Durban.
Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, visiting victims at a sports ground where they are currently living in tents, said the government would help them return to their home countries if they wanted to.
“Our constitution says that everyone who is within the borders is entitled to dignity, to shelter, etc. So unless that is amended we have no right therefore to victimise people from other parts of Africa,” he told public broadcaster SABC.
Most of the 250 victims of the latest outbreak of xenophobic violence at Isipingo, south of Durban, come from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Gigaba added that he and his ministry are also ready to help immigrants who are determined to stay in South Africa.
The minister stressed that he was working with local authorities so the immigrants can return “back to their communities where they have residence to continue with their lives”.
“We will work… to ensure the reintegration, to address issues which have been the causes of them being attacked,” he promised.
The attack on foreigners in Isipingo came days after the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, the most important traditional leader in KwaZulu-Natal province, said immigrants should “pack their bags and leave” South Africa.
He was supported by Edward Zuma, the son of the country’s president, Jacob Zuma, who warned, “We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of them [foreigners] taking over the country.”
KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu said he condemned “any form of violence orchestrated by anyone against anyone”.
The last major explosion of anger against immigrants left 62 dead in 2008, although sporadic violence has never stopped in the townships, with Somalians, Ethiopians and Bangladeshi often attacked and their shops ransacked.
Several hundred immigrant-owned shops were looted in January in Soweto, when trouble erupted in the township, leading to at least six deaths.
Police and local authorities insist that the looting is not driven by xenophobia but is simply opportunistic criminal activity.
However, reports show that the only businesses being looted and business owners being attacked are foreign nationals.
Many owners of the small general stores common in townships complain that foreigners undercut prices and push locals out of business.
They have often been blamed for the attacks on their foreign competitors.