“Some foreign nationals commit crimes, but most of the crimes are committed by South Africans.”

The African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) has alleged that xenophobia is endorsed and sanctioned by the state, particularly through law enforcement.

This was a recurring message brought up at a discussion hosted by the organisation on August 21 at Wits University’s Senate Room.

The forum focused on recent Johannesburg raids in which immigrants and foreign shop owners were targeted and arrested for alleged possession of counterfeit goods and unlawful documents.

“Policing is inherently political. Even if we kicked every foreign national out of South Africa, our crime rate would barely budge,” said Gareth Newham, head of the governance, crime and justice division at the Institute of Security Studies.

“Some foreign nationals commit crimes, but most of the crimes are committed by South Africans.”

The panel also spoke on what they felt was discrimination against foreign nationals who claim they entered the country legally.

Researcher for ACMS Jean Pierre Misago said xenophobia undermines the rule of law and is very dangerous. Misago said it is even more dangerous when the state is complicit.

“Let us not fool ourselves, xenophobic violence is not an irrational or spontaneous outbreak; it is a rational choice people make after weighing up costs and benefits,” he said.

Misago said perpetrators of xenophobic violence can commit such crimes without consequence as there is no accountability for their actions.

Julia Hornberger, an associate professor in the department of social and cultural anthropology, said, “The police are doing the rough work for profit somewhere else.”

Hornberger said big brands are not bothered about goods seized by the police in small quantities as it does not dent their businesses.

The forum was told that the failure of the South African economy was blamed on the presence of foreign nationals, and this was done by the state and how it responded to issues in the inner city.

However, Stephen van Neel, director of ports and entry at Home Affairs, said the panel was being too harsh on the South African state. He said migration is a complex matter.

Van Neel said the panel focused too much on policing in the way forward.

“The panel talks about so-called counterfeit goods, and that is a problem to me. Perhaps I would have loved to hear about what this means for the future of South African politics, but we did not get into that,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.

FEATURED IMAGE: Left to right: Koketso Moeti, Julia Hornbergwer, Gareth Newham, Tinyiko Maluleke, Jan Willem Bornman, and Jean Pierre Misago. Photo: Lineo Leteba