Economic migrants seeking better employment opportunities in the region have traditionally been drawn to South Africa. People from neighboring nations, as well as the rest of Africa and South Asia, flock to the country. On the other hand, South Africa frequently makes the news for violent attacks against immigrants. Xenophobia has reached a new high with the formation of a group called "Put South Africa First." The movement started on social media and openly stated that tackling South Africa's unemployment, crime, and social problems requires returning non-nationals back to their home countries.
In recent months, tensions have been rising. South Africa, a country with a history of xenophobic violence towards immigrants, is treading on a thin line, and the country might descend into chaos. More than 60 people were murdered in 2008 xenophobic attacks. In 2015, more than ten people were killed. Armed crowds attacked foreign-owned businesses in Johannesburg in September 2019, igniting the violence once more. At least 10 people were murdered in the violence.
Human rights activists and foreign citizens are concerned about Put South Africa First, especially since it gathered dozens of individuals a few weeks ago for a march to the Nigerian and Zimbabwean embassies in Pretoria in November 2021. Undocumented immigrants and those involved in criminal acts, the protesters shouted, must leave South Africa. Human rights organizations in South Africa have maintained that Put South Africa First's charges are unjustified. The movement claims that foreign nationals are mostly responsible for crimes ranging from robbery, sex slavery, kidnappings, and human trafficking to drug trafficking without providing any evidence.
According to some economists, the Put South Africa First Movement is looking for scapegoats. COVID-19 has impacted South Africans, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs in both the formal and informal sectors. The pandemic exacerbated an already precarious economic condition, leading some to blame foreigners. The discovery of the Omicron, a COVID-19 variant in the country, is expected to exacerbate the problem. Analysts say that targeting non-nationals in South Africa is a distraction and inappropriate. The economic standstill that followed COVID-19 produced uneasiness and a search for blame ensued. When matters get heated in South Africa, some foreigners say that they are always the scapegoats.
Protests against economic migrants in South Africa have now become a political campaign topic. As a result of the protests, the ANC-led government has decided not to extend special permits for Zimbabweans and other foreign nationals. The South African government declared two weeks ago that it would not renew special Zimbabwean Exemption Permits, which allowed qualified Zimbabweans to get documents for a five-year term. This is being done in order to avoid losing votes in the upcoming elections. The ANC is losing support at home, as evidenced by the recent local election, and the migration issue may be to blame.
However, by criticizing the Put South Africa First movement, other political groups, such as the EFF, risked losing support at home. EFF leader Julius Malema claimed that it goes against the spirit of Pan-Africanism and is an unpleasant manner of dealing with neighbors and important trading partners. According to the EFF, South Africans should look within themselves; it is not foreigners who are causing their misery, but inequality in the country.
The immigration issue will play a big role in influencing policy and defining the political landscape in South Africa as the country approaches the next elections. The South African government needs to seriously look into the situation before the violence begins. The situation is very tense in almost every major city, and foreigners are scared.