South African police on Tuesday forcefully evicted hundreds of immigrants from temporary camps in Johannesburg. The immigrants, who now face deportation, were earlier targeted in xenophobic attacks. Their plight signals the fallout of rising food prices and the worsening economic conditions in South Africa and the region.
According to the South African daily Mail and Guardian, those immigrants who had not properly registered were being evicted from refugee camps and taken to repatriation centers, from where they would be deported to their home countries.
People who did not sign up for the temporary ID cards, valid for six months, or did not have legal papers would be deported, said Cleo Mosana [a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson].... She said the department would still allow people to sign the forms for the temporary IDs on Tuesday.
Approximately 850 of the 1,800 residents at the camp had apparently signed up for the ID cards....
Earlier, those foreigners who had not signed up for the temporary IDs were taken out of the camps in trucks bound for the Lindela repatriation centre to be deported.
Mosana told the Mail & Guardian Online at the time that people would be "sorted into categories" at Lindela. "All documents will be checked for authenticity and legitimacy. Those with asylum papers and refugee status will be allowed to stay."
But the Mail and Guardian report adds that at least one shelter, the Glenanda refugee camp, is expected to close within the next two weeks, leaving even those immigrants who have procured temporary identity cards to make their own arrangements for the future.
Immigrants had been shifted to temporary refugee camps and shelters after being targeted in xenophobic attacks in May, during which more than 60 foreigners were killed and tens of thousands others left the country, according to the BBC.
The Christian Science Monitor reported that the attacks in May were motivated by rising food prices and worsening economic conditions that made South African nationals resentful of immigrants who have enjoyed modest financial success in their country.
While few predicted the anti-immigrant attacks, the warning signs have been present for years. Attacks against Somali shopkeepers alone have led to hundreds of deaths in sporadic violence since 1994, say Somali groups. The government doesn't track attacks based on national origin.
Anger about the government's inability to create jobs or to deliver electricity or drinking water to burgeoning townships has spilled over into open protests, complete with roadblocks, burning tires, and residents wielding clubs. Now, angry citizens have taken their frustrations out those who arrived in South Africa to make a little money, and succeeded.
South Africa has 48 million people. It is hard to find a reliable estimate of the number of foreigners in the mix. Most certainly, not all immigrants push ahead of South Africans economically. But Somalis and Ethiopians have proved themselves successful shopkeepers in the townships.
Zimbabweans, who make up this country's largest immigrant group, benefited from a strong educational system before their homeland plunged into collapse, sending an estimated three million across the border to seek refuge here. Schoolteachers and other professionals — their salaries rendered worthless by Zimbabwe's hyperinflation — come to work as housekeepers and menial laborers.
The targeting of immigrants from Zimbabwe and other African countries is not a recent phenomenon, however, and extends well before recent election-related violence in Zimbabwe heightened the region's political instability. According to a Human Rights Watch report released in February 2007, South African officials were regularly arresting and deporting undocumented migrant workers while commercial farmers routinely violated their labor rights.
The 115-page report ... documents how state officials arrest, detain and deport undocumented foreign migrants, particularly those from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, in ways that contravene South Africa's immigration law. The report also details how commercial farmers ignore basic employment law protections even when they employ documented foreign migrants and South Africans....
Due to deteriorating political and economic conditions at home, as many as 3 million Zimbabweans are in South Africa seeking work and asylum. The South African government's visa requirements for Zimbabweans, coupled with the Zimbabwean government's lack of capacity to issue passports, make Zimbabweans particularly likely to be undocumented and thus vulnerable to arrest, detention, and deportation in South Africa.
As a result of the increase in the number of Zimbabwean deportees in recent years and the decline in the number of Mozambican deportees, Zimbabweans now surpass Mozambicans as the largest group of deportees from South Africa.
Since attacks against immigrant workers escalated in May, the South African government has been struggling to accommodate foreigners who have been displaced in ad hoc shelters, reports The New York Times. The challenge is exacerbated because of rampant infighting among migrants from different African countries within the emergency camps.
The Christian Science Monitor also reported that some sympathetic South African nationals aided displaced migrants by organizing task forces of churches, mosques, and nonprofit organizations to set up relief distribution systems.
Since such ad hoc measures to protect immigrants are not sustainable, the South African government is in favor of repatriation. But the deportation efforts come at a time when many migrants will return to increasingly dire conditions in their home countries. For example, according to a report in The Guardian, millions of Zimbabweans are threatened by mass starvation and are thus inclined to flee their country rather than repatriate.
Interestingly, the South African authorities' crackdown on immigrants occurred on the same day that the government was hoping to convene negotiations between Zimbabwe's feuding political parties – one day after President Robert Mugabe met with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in Harare, according to the International Herald Tribune.
After months of negative coverage of his kid gloves approach towards his counterpart Robert Mugabe, Mbeki was able to bask on Tuesday in headlines that proclaimed him as a minor miracle worker.
The talks are now slated to start Thursday in South Africa, reports the Voice of America. Representatives of Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF Party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are to arrive Wednesday to prepare for talks on power-sharing.
The agreements established a two-week deadline for an agreement that would include setting objectives and priorities for a new government, a new constitution, and an implementation mechanism.