President Cyril Ramaphosa has appealed to South Africans to desist from “acts of lawlessness” against foreign nationals – whether documented or undocumented.
Ramaphosa made the appeal in an impassioned letter to the nation on Monday (11 April), days after vigilante groups reportedly entered homes of foreign nationals in Diepsloot, Gauteng, in search of illegal immigrants.
The vigilantism, which led to the killing of Zimbabwean national Elvis Nyathi, was sparked by reports that seven people had lost their lives in a spate of crime in the area. Many locals believe illegal immigrants are behind the high crime levels.
‘Crime is the common enemy, migrants’
However, Ramaphosa said the targeting of foreign nationals is reminiscent of apartheid practices. “We have seen people being stopped on the street by private citizens and being forced to produce identification to verify their immigration status,” he said.
“We have seen some political leaders making unscientific statements about immigrants to exploit people’s grievances for political gain. We have seen marches being led on people’s homes and their dwellings raided for evidence of criminal activity. We have seen people being attacked, hurt and even killed because of how they looked or because they have a particular accent. This was how the apartheid oppressors operated.”
The President emphasised that crime is the common enemy, not migrants, adding that perpetrators of crime “are both black and white, male and female, foreigner and citizen.”
“We cannot defeat crime through incitement, violence, intimidation and vigilantism aimed at foreign nationals, and specifically nationals from other African countries,” he added.
Tackling crime, illegal immigration is government’s responsibility
Ramaphosa reiterated that the primary responsibility for tackling crime and illegal immigration lies with the government’s various entities, not private citizens.
“No private citizen may assume the role of immigration or law enforcement authorities by demanding that foreign nationals produce identification. Under Section 41 of the Immigration Act, only a police member or immigration officer can ask someone to identify themselves as a citizen, permanent resident or foreign national,” he explained.
“No private citizen or group has the right to enter businesses and demand its owners produce proof that their businesses are registered or legal. This is the competence of municipal, provincial or national authorities, including inspectors from the Department of Employment and Labour and the South African Revenue Service.
“We are a democracy founded on the rule of law. Acts of lawlessness directed at foreign nationals, whether they are documented or undocumented, cannot be tolerated.”
The recent tensions between some citizens and foreign nationals have sparked fears of renewed xenophobia, which the President warned could spiral into internal resentments.
“Today, our anger may be directed at nationals from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria or Pakistan. Tomorrow, our anger may be directed at each other,” he said.