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South Africa has been gripped by a wave of xenophobic attacks this week, that turned downtown Johannesburg and Pretoria into no-go zones as shops were looted and people physically attacked.

At least three people have been killed as a result of the violence, and on Wednesday, police minister Bheki Cele confirmed that all three individuals were South Africans.

It’s reported that the latest wave of attacks on African immigrants — still unfortunately a common experience in South Africa — was sparked by a confrontation in Pretoria between a taxi driver and alleged drug dealer.

In the fight that ensued, the alleged drug dealer reportedly shot and killed the taxi driver, leading other drivers and onlookers to then attack the shooter.

Meanwhile, in Johannesburg, tensions increased when police raided inner city shops to look for counterfeit goods and products.

Most of the shops in downtown Johannesburg and surrounding areas are owned by African and Asian immigrants.

The shop owners pushed back on the raids, and attacked police with stones and petrol bombs.

As a result, the Gauteng province has been on edge since the weekend but Cele says the violence has nothing to do with xenophobia.

Speaking at a press briefing, he said: “That [xenophobia] is used as an excuse. It’s pure criminality; people looting and using that as ‘xenophobia’. There is nothing that has sparked this conflict between South Africans and foreign nationals. We are dealing with criminality rather than xenophobia at the present moment.”

Even so, the violence has caused concern in the country and around Africa, and once again renewed conversations about the violence experienced by African immigrants in South Africa.

Rapper Sho Madjozi weighed in on the topic with a series of tweets saying that South Africa needs leaders who will be able to engage with the “complicated truth” about immigration, xenophobia, and overall violence in the country.

South Africa, it has been noted by political commentators in the country, has a violent relationship with African immigrants.

In the run-up to the general elections  held in May, several political leaders claimed South Africa is home to too many immigrants and refugees.

The leader of the Congress of the People (COPE), Mosiuoa Lekota said: “Government, at national [level], is allowing people to flood South Africa. Most people occupying the buildings are people coming from outside the country.”

Lekota was speaking in his party’s capacity as a coalition partner with other opposition parties, including the Democratic Alliance (DA).

He added: "We have foreign shops in this country, foreigners trading without paying VAT. Local South African people being cleaned out.  We will look after refugees, but they must be located where they don't make it impossible for South Africans to run businesses.”

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the DA, said: "We must secure our borders, we can't sit here and pretend having porous borders is the solution to our problems.”

On Monday, the Right2Know campaign — a coalition of civil society organisations — released a statement saying that political leaders should be held responsible for making inflammatory statements about immigrants.

“We recognise that there are many sources of the violence but it is also clear that statements of outrage and condemnation by state officials at all levels (Cabinet, Parliament, the Gauteng Province, SAPS, and Metros) fuelled the actions of ordinary citizens who interpreted those statements to be licence to take the law into their own hands,” the statement read.

The rapper isn’t the only pop icon speaking out against the attacks. Nigerian musician Burna Boy, who was due to headline Afro-Punk Johannesburg in December, has cancelled his performance, saying he won’t go to South Africa again until the government “performs a miracle.”

Singer Tiwa Savage, who last performed in South Africa in December at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, announced that she will no longer perform at the Delicious food and music festival at the end of September.

And now, other Africa governments have started weighing in on the violence against African immigrants as well.

On Tuesday night, Zambia’s football association announced it had cancelled a friendly match with South Africa’s Bafana Bafana.

Meanwhile, Independent Online reports that the presidents of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi have also decided not to attend the World Economic Forum on Africa that’s currently underway in Cape Town.


Demand Equity

South African Singer Sho Madjozi Speaks Out as Xenophobic Attacks Spark Riots

By Lerato Mogoatlhe