Scores of Zimbabwean and other African immigrants in South Africa, according to reports are making frantic efforts to leave the country at the very earliest amid mounting fears of an more vicious outbreak of xenophobic violence as the FIFA World Cup draws to a close.
Rumours fuelled by South Africans have spread across crime infested Johannesburg and other South African cities that once the soccer show is finished next Sunday, foreigners, especially black African immigrants will be attacked and driven out of the continent’s richest country in a repeat of the xenophobic violence that shocked the world two years ago.
The 2008 xenophobic attacks left at least 62 foreigners dead and thousands of others displaced, leaving foreign investors unsettled and South Africa’s image as one of the more tolerant counties in the world shattered.
The People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (Passop), a non-governmental organisation fighting to protect the rights of displaced people and immigrants, issued a statement saying foreigners were deserting their homes in townships and other low-income areas to look for alternative accommodation in more affluent suburbs where xenophobia is limited.
“People are borrowing money to move out of local communities. Some have resigned from their jobs and have returned to the countries of their origin. They say it is better to die in their own countries than to die here,” Passop chairman Braam Hanekom said.
Hanekom said there was no evidence of a coordinated plan on the grounds to attack foreigners but added: “The rumours are everywhere. Threats are made on taxis, other public transport and places of trade.”
Passop is rolling out an anti-xenophobia plan which included meeting local leaders to urge them to persuade community members not to attack foreigners. The group was also distributing pamphlets against xenophobia.
However, reports from Cape Town, where the latest outbreak of xenophobia occurred last year, said large numbers of immigrants were vacating their homes some for safer locations while others were returning to their home countries.
South Africa, which has the continent’s most prosperous economy, is home to millions of foreign nationals, many of them living illegally and seeking better opportunities from failed economies like their northern neighbour, Zimbabwe.
However, there are no exact figures of how many Zimbabwean live in South Africa but estimates put the figure at anything above two million or above a sixth of Zimbabwe’s total population of 12 million people.
Locals often complain that the immigrants steal their jobs by readily accepting below market wages, while also overloading government social services.