South Africans ‘desensitised to crime and xenophobic attacks’

Victim of xenophobic attack by South African blacks in 2008

South Africans are becoming desensitised to crime and xenophobic attacks, the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria said on Thursday.

“We fear that xenophobic attacks are becoming regular phenomena, and the South African population is becoming increasingly desensitised,” it said in a statement.

“While the law prohibits heinous deeds such as sexual and violent crimes, the South African population has grown apathetic to these issues with little hope of them being addressed.”

It called on all tertiary institutions to address the issue.

“We need to start formulating plans on how to incorporate the issue of xenophobia into syllabi, create better awareness around xenophobia, and disseminate information about the scope and protection of the South African Constitution.”

Last month, police reported unrest at Diepsloot after Somali businessman Bishar Isaack was arrested for allegedly shooting dead two men, believed to be Zimbabweans, outside his shop after they allegedly tried to rob him.

Afterwards, residents stoned the shop and looted it and other businesses in the area.

Police arrested 45 people for public violence, housebreaking, and possession of unlicensed firearms.

In the same month, more than 90 people were arrested for protest-related crimes in Evaton, Orange Farm, and Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg.

Complaints of looting and vandalism of spaza shops belonging to foreigners were reported.

Violence also flared in Port Elizabeth, in Eastern Cape, where Somali shop owners were targeted.

A wave of xenophobic violence in 2008 left at least 60 foreigners dead.

The centre said South Africans needed to remember that the leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle, including President Jacob Zuma, often took refuge in neighbouring countries.

“President… Zuma should therefore understand the importance of supporting people that fled their countries as a result of intolerable situations better than most,” it said.

“It is of the utmost importance that President Zuma seize this opportunity to convey a message… about the important role that refugees played in the anti-apartheid movement, and reiterate South Africa’s obligation to support refugees from other African states.” – Sapa