On 24th July a conference was held in Durban to discuss issues of xenophobia. There were 6 issues that were discussed. Defining xenophobia, manifestation of it, why xenophobia exists, how can it be eradicated, who could help eradicate it and should there be legislation to address it.
Participants broadly agreed that xenophobia was hatred of foreigners and it arose as a result of fear, prejudice, perception that they were the cause of scarcity of land, of housing and jobs. Such perceptions lead to growing hatred and violence in various forms from verbal abuse to active physical violence and slaying of foreigners.
Participants felt that these perceptions were often fuelled by employers who chose to employ foreigners in order to obtain cheap labour.
It was reported that employers employed foreigners who were vulnerable and possibly illegal immigrants so that they could exploit them knowing that these people would not be able to go to court to take action against employers for fear of being deported.
It was also felt that negative stories published by media against foreign nationals had the effect of rising prejudice and resulting in xenophobia especially against particular groups.
It was felt that such prejudices will only be curbed if South African society becomes more equitable and there is access to basic resources for all. There should also be more streamlined procedures for obtaining work permits to be able to work in South Africa. There should also be education on how prejudices arise and diversity training. There should be greater cohesion and coordination among the role players, government, civil society and private sector. A clear programme of action should be undertaken in order to eradicate xenophobia from our society.
Finally the conference was unable to get unanimity on the issue of criminalization of xenophobia but there was a feeling that a carefully thought out legislation and policy would assist in dealing with issues of xenophobia.