A desperate plea for help from women victims of xenophobia in South Africa

by Ashura Nassor

On the 8th of March, we want to reproduce a woman’s request for solidarity, which expresses the situation experienced by 2 million migrant women living in South Africa.

Eve, just over 30 years old, is a mother of two and tells a little about her experience as a migrant. She is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), arrived in South Africa at the age of 13. And before that, she lived in Swaziland for 5 years.

Eve took the common route of internal migrants from the African continent, who left different countries in sub-Saharan Africa and went to South Africa, especially after the end of Apartheid in 1994. This was because they believed that in the Rainbow Nation, they could have the opportunity to work, study and be safe.

However, what Eve tells us is that the situation is hugely different, that many xenophobic acts suffer from physical violence and deaths.

The migrant’s suffering begins as soon as he arrives. There are economic migrants who escape from poverty and there are political migrants, victims of civil wars in their countries, and who seek refugee status.

Every migrant must go to a State agency (Home Affairs) to obtain their documents. The South African State, in the last twenty years, has never had a lesser interest in regularizing the situation of migrants. First, because as illegals they are obliged to submit to the worst paid jobs. Then, with the process of deindustrialization with a drastic reduction in jobs, there is no longer any interest in cheap labour because there is an exceptionally large number of unemployed people.

Then, when the migrant arrives in South Africa, he/she goes to Home Affairs which is the State agency responsible for issuing asylum-seeker documents while is responsible for taking migrants to the court if their papers are expired or not regularized, said Eve. The Home Affairs can issue two types of documents, which according to Eve one is for “those who have already been granted an asylum-seeker application, their papers are renewed every 3 to 6 months, those who are already recognized as such their documents are renewed every 2 to 4 years”.

The document problem has a big impact on migrants. Without the definitive migratory document, children and young people are unable to get a certificate of completion of high school or go to college. Those who do not have a definitive migratory document do not receive the diploma they have earned. This is the rule even if the student has attended regularly. “I studied, but I didn’t get my certificate” and then, without studies, the “job opportunity is very rare for foreigners, especially for asylum seekers,” Eve tells us.

For the child born in South Africa, there are two types of birth certificate. One is yellow for the children of South African parents and the other white for the son of foreigners. Thus, the child begins his existence with this discrimination that will mark him for life in South African territory even though he was born there.

While legalizing the foreigner was already exceedingly difficult, now the situation has worsened in the pandemic. With the apology of the pandemic, Home Affairs is no longer serving, and so migrants and refugees do not have access to renewed documentation. Eve explains that “as soon as your documents expire, the Home Affairs when it asks for your documents at the train and bus stops, sees that your documents are expired and takes you to a Police Station. Because he is illegal, he is initially arrested and then sent to the Court of Justice”. The criminalization of migrants due to irregular documentation is something quite common, even before the pandemic, when applicants had to face long lines, travel to other cities, and were hardly able to be served on the same day in Home Affairs and often because they were unable the document were stuck.

If a student child does not get a diploma because he does not have documents, his parents also suffer when looking for a job. Following Eve’s account: “If you are a foreigner, companies will not hire you even if you have all the qualifications. This is because the Legislation restricts the hiring of foreigners in several points, and when they hire, knowing that we do not have documents in order, in addition to receiving a lower salary, we still suffer attacks from xenophobes who accuse us of trying against their salary”. And he says that “the citizens of South Africa claim that we are stealing their job or receiving less for the work that they could have received more. So, they attack us anyway, anytime, even without warning, most of it happens in our workplace”.

Xenophobia cases range from attacks against children in schools, physical violence against foreigners on urban trains, leaving workplaces and even burning small businesses and homes.

Eve tells us that “things have gotten worse since the pandemic and during this economic crisis, recently, some small foreign businesses have been attacked, looted and set on fire.”

Eve was also a victim of two xenophobic attacks while selling her products at a popular fair. The first one “in December 2020 we were attacked at the Flea Market where I sell. It was not so bad because they just told us to pack up and get out of there, it was not so bad yet. Some of us managed to save their goods and belongings”.

The other attack occurred “at the end of February 2021, this new incident happened again this time, it was worse than before because we lost everything, some people lost they life, come people were injured and were taken to the hospital immediately and some people lost their lives “.

The so-called Republic of the Rainbow, as Nelson Mandela used to say, preserved the entire repressive structure inherited from apartheid and created new repressive laws against foreign immigrants. These are not isolated facts. It is a state policy. Recently, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Thulas Nxesi stated that he intends to restrict the number of jobs for migrants. According to Nxesi, he is not referring to illegal workers, those that Home Affairs does not grant documents. He is referring to the rare ones who got their documentation.

The UN (United Nations) through UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has declared “Our team has been receiving a significant increase in calls to our phone lines in recent weeks, with people reporting that their homes and businesses have been looted, buildings and properties were set on fire, increased gang activity on the streets and increased sexual incidents and gender-based violence” said UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley. That was in 2018 and no concrete steps were taken to eliminate xenophobia, On the contrary, in the pandemic it only increased.

For Eve, who is a member of the Congolese Renaissance Movement (CRM), workers’ solidarity, and class unity are needed to defend Congolese women against attacks and the xenophobic policy applied by the government of the ANC-COSATU-Communist Party in South Africa.

One thought on “A desperate plea for help from women victims of xenophobia in South Africa

  1. I am a victim of xenophobia in 2008 on my way to college in the train and xenophobic thugs took my hard earned money of parking cars job to pay school fees that made me not to graduate and was been refused a police case several times, my child A4 white paper birth certificate was discriminated and the home affairs official went as far to write down in black and white “foreigner” on my baby BC, was he supposed to remind me on my child birth certificate that he is a foreigner that we already know? I am 16 years in South Africa with a refugee status but still unemployed since 2018 while I am married and father of two, how am I supposed to offer a bright future for my innocent kids that are born here? Talk about women my wife is a victim of attempt of rape and kidnap of my then 2 years old son, unable to find a job even of customer service we applied; I have so many experiences of insecurities unsafe,discriminations, threats and so forth at work places and communities.

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