The movement Put South Africa First, which first appeared on social media, is seen as a cause for alarm by human rights defenders and foreign nationals, especially after it mobilized dozens of people for a march to the Nigerian and Zimbabwean embassies in Pretoria last week. The protesters demanded that undocumented immigrants, or those involved in criminal activities, leave South Africa.
Without presenting any evidence, the movement alleges that foreign nationals are mainly responsible for crimes ranging from robbery, sex slavery, kidnappings, and human trafficking to the peddling of drugs.
Some of its leaders, like Ike Khumalo, went as far as demanding that immigrants be denied their rights. Khumalo told DW that even those documented should no longer enjoy the same rights as South Africans. “Our constitution should also be amended because our constitution is a problem,” he said, insisting that a constitution should be valid for South Africans only.
South Africa has a history of violence against foreigners. Xenophobic attacks left at least 62 people dead in 2008. Seven others were killed in 2015. Violence flared again in September last year when armed mobs attacked foreign-owned businesses in Johannesburg. The clashes left at least 12 people dead.
The Put South Africa First movement, the first organized group to openly say that solving South Africa’s unemployment, crime, and social problems must include sending non-nationals back to their countries, is seen as cause for alarm by observers.
South Africa has long been a magnet for economic migrants searching for better job prospects in the region. The country attracts people not only from neighbouring Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, but also Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Asia. The county’s last population census, in 2011, counted more than 2.2 million foreigners.
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