Xenophobic attacks in townships across South Africa, May 11 2008

Sign made by victims of xenophobia and worried African expats outside the Cape Town central police station, 2018.

On May 11 2008, an outburst of xenophobic violence in the Johannesburg Township Alexandra triggered more xenophobic violence in other townships. Firstly, it only spread in the Gauteng province. After two weeks, the violence spread to other urban areas across the country, mainly Durban and Cape Town. But it also emerged in townships in more rural areas such as Limpopo Province.  The violence consisted of attacks both verbally and physically by inhabitants of the townships on other inhabitants. The victims were called foreigners, referring to their nationality being non-South African and predominantly Zimbabwean and Mozambican. As a result many houses were burnt, 342 shops were looted and 213 burnt down. Hundreds of people were injured, thousands chased away and the death toll after the attacks stood at 56.

Xenophobia is the fear of everything strange and foreign. It is also used to describe the resentment and dislike towards foreign people. It derives from the Greek: xenos (stranger, foreigner) and phobos (fear).

These attacks are condemned by the South African people. There was also a huge outcry in many townships to condemn this most criminal behavior.

Mainly the influx of Zimbabweans who fled the dire conditions in their homecountry were blamed for the misery in the townships. Also other African immigrants, mainly Nigerians, Somalis, Congolese, Ethiopians, Malawians and Mozambicans were affected by the violence.

In 2008 around 20,000 foreign immigrants sought safe shelters in the Western Cape. They were housed then in more than 100 ad-hoc shelters in community centers, churches and the city’s six safe zones most of the immigrants however have been reintegrated in their communities.

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