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South Africa: Longstanding criminal justice failures and toxic populist rhetoric fuelling xenophobia

    February 24, 2017

    Authorities must ensure adequate protection for all refugees and migrants living in South Africa, amid the current protests in Pretoria and the escalating xenophobic tension and attacks in different parts of Gauteng Province, Amnesty International said today.

    Two protests are currently underway in different parts of Pretoria, Atteridgeville and Mamelodi, against high inequality, poverty and unemployment. Another march is also taking place in the same area against xenophobia. A team from Amnesty International is on the ground monitoring developments, with spokespeople available for interview. The situation remains tense, with confrontations and violence occurring   between the groups.

    “The situation in Pretoria is precariously balanced and could easily escalate into serious violence. To avoid a bloody and wholly unnecessary conclusion to this standoff, the authorities must take all measures necessary to ensure that violence does not escalate and to facilitate the assembly of those who are demonstrating peacefully,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

    The organisation believes that the latest spiralling xenophobic tension is being fuelled, in part, by longstanding police and criminal justice failures, including a failure to address toxic populist rhetoric that blames and scapegoats refugees and migrants for crime, unemployment and other social problems.

    “South African authorities have largely failed to address the outbreak of xenophobic crimes that has been seen in the country since at least 2008 and bring those responsible to justice. Failure to act upon this sends a worrisome message that such acts are tolerated by the authorities,” said Deprose Muchena.

    “While respecting the freedom to express frustrations on socio-economic problems, the authorities have a duty to ensure effective strategies are in place to protect refugees, migrants and asylum seekers in South Africa against xenophobic attacks,”

    “This cannot be allowed to continue, the authorities must take immediate action to protect those most at risk of being outed and facing attacks because of their nationality.”