Uganda ready to evacuate 200,000 from South Africa


A man burning in South Africa as a result of xenophobic violence sweeping the former Apartheid state


Several African countries with nationals in South Africa have announced plans to evacuate their citizens from the Southern African state in the wake of xenophobic attacks with Uganda saying that an inter-ministerial agency has been created to effect the move.

The Permanent Secretary of Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry Ambassador James Mugume said the multi-agency taskforce will monitor the situation of the 200,000 Ugandans who are currently working and residing in South Africa and advice government on the best move possible in case the situation exacerbates.

“The chairpersons of Ugandan Associations have also been asked to register their members and forward lists to the High Commission in order to update its records on the numbers and locations of Ugandans in South Africa,” Ambassador James Mugume said during a joint Press Conference with the South African Ambassador to Uganda Wendy Swartz.

Ambassador Swartz said her government has also set up an inter-ministerial committee to end the xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals. “Our president has set-up a taskforce committee comprising the ministers of Police, State Security and Home Affairs and these three ministers have been tasked with ensuring that this violence comes to an end.”she said.

The United Nations has also raised the alarm over deadly xenophobic attacks which have displaced thousands.

The anti-foreigner violence, which erupted in the eastern port city of Durban, has left at least six people dead and spread to the economic hub, Johannesburg. “In South Africa, xenophobic attacks over the last three weeks have displaced over 5,000 foreign nationals,” the UN refugee agency said, adding it was “extremely concerned”.

“We would like to underscore that those affected in these xenophobic attacks are refugees and asylum seekers who were forced to leave their countries due to war and persecution,” the UNHCR said. Foreigners who have fled their homes are sheltering in makeshift camps.

The latest violence has been largely blamed on a speech last month by King Goodwill Zwelithini, traditional leader of the Zulus, in which he blamed foreigners for South Africa’s high crime rate and said they must “take their bags and go”.

The king has since said his words were misinterpreted, but for some, Zwelithini simply articulated what many were feeling.

South Africa’s relatively sophisticated economy attracts both legal and illegal African immigrants, but massive inequalities and high unemployment among locals breed resentment against them.

“We believe that the cause of the xenophobic attacks is policy failure by the government,” said Mienke Mary Steytler, of the South African Institute of Race Relations. “High unemployment and inequality are not being tackled.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the “barbaric, criminal and xenophobic murder of innocent foreigners”, calling on the South African government to act quickly to end the violence.

Neighboring Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique also announced plans to evacuate their citizens, as the violence drew regional outrage.

The anger in neighbouring countries was exacerbated by the fact that they hosted thousands of South African exiles during the struggle against apartheid — a point that President Jacob Zuma raised in a speech to parliament last week.

“We were treated with generosity, dignity and respect by our brothers and sisters on the rest of the continent,” Zuma said, noting that their solidarity was “critical to achievement of freedom and democracy we are enjoying today”.

This is not the first wave of anti-foreigner violence in South Africa. In January, foreign shopkeepers in and around the vast township of Soweto, south of Johannesburg, were forced to flee and six were killed as looters rampaged through the area. And in 2008, 62 people were killed in xenophobic violence across the city’s townships.

Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, has warned of possible reprisal attacks against South African businesses on the continent, in the wake of continuing violent xenophobia directed at foreigners on home soil.  President Jacob Zuma’s son, Edward, has come out in full support of King Goodwill Zwelithini’s controversial call to deport foreigners from South Africa.

“We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of them [foreigners] taking over the country. “The reason why I am saying that is because some of the foreigners are working for private security companies where they have been employed for cheap labour. These companies are running away from complying with South African labour laws,” said the president’s eldest son.