The Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) of South Africa says the sporadic attacks against foreign nationals in that country have nothing to do with xenophobia but are a result of frustration by the unemployed.

And GCIS says South Africa will continue experiencing such attacks as long as the country does not accept and move on from the effects of apartheid.

GCIS acting director Phumla Williams, who is also Spokesperson of the South African Cabinet, said this during a media engagement with African journalists who have been invited to that country on a fact finding tour.

“South Africa has a long way to deal with the social coercion and the effects of the apartheid in this country. We are now beginning to see snippets of tribalism, we are seeing snippets of racism and I want you to see this whole headache that we have. As part of the enormous task that we have, your invitation here is for you to say ‘let’s work together’. What really causes this is simple: one; people are facing challenges of need, for instance we have a serious problem of unemployment. It’s very easy to take an easy way out and say ‘it’s because of the foreigners or it’s because of the whites or whatever’. We have a crisis in this country of unemployment and I am hoping you will be able to see that the bulk of this unemployment, the highest percentage I think is about 54% and its young people who are graduates some of them but they can’t find jobs. You would have a young graduate who would say ‘I have been unemployed for the last four years since I graduated’. So these are the challenges that we have and we then find that the outlet become the vulnerable ones,” Williams said, when asked why xenophobia was on the rise in her country.

Williams further explained why her government was insisting that South Africa was not a xenophobic country.

“It’s a pity you have limited time but we will take you to my home town where I grew up, we actually intermingle over there. We’ve got Pakistan, we’ve got Nigerians, Zimbabweans and they co-exist. So what we think we need to do, we have a huge task as the Continent to try and fight to make sure that we all co-exist. Some of the challenges we need to confront them ourselves. For instance, some people will do wrong things. For example I can cite Nigeria, they would say ‘the Nigerians bring drugs’ but how then do they do it? They don’t do it alone and it’s not all of them. It would be one who comes to sell drugs but he does it with the South Africans. For God’s sake…how does that become xenophobia? Because it’s the Nigerian together with the South African who are selling drugs. So why would you want to isolate one and leave the other one? And it’s the media that narrates that and then it fuels the tension. And I always fight with the media on this one to say ‘why are you singling out this Nigerian’ because there is a South African also who was involved in the peddling. But this is for all of us to fight together to say ‘I am not going to allow myself to say foreign nationals that are in this country are not welcome’,” she said.

Williams implored the media to highlight stories about foreigners who were making a positive contribution to that country.

“They are welcome and I see them every day but yes there will be those that are wrong, but when they are wrong, sometimes they are not wrong alone, they are wrong with a South African. But the media is too happy to do the divide and rule. If we can tell you how many get to go to court, not as foreign nationals but with the South African but when they narrate the story, the media will say ‘one Nigerian is serving so much’ they don’t mention the co-accused. But I think for us to get it right, we don’t need to not see wrong doers in terms of their nationality. In the same way, those who are doing a brilliant work in our country, we actually don’t showcase them. For me, I still want to see a journalist that will showcase a Professor that is doing a brilliant job in our hospitals who happens to be a foreign national. There are so many foreign nationals that are contributing to this country. Why are you not writing this? Let’s also showcase the ones that are making a contribution.”

Williams said high unemployment levels were also responsible for dangerous criminal activities in the country.

“So at the end of the day, what I am saying is that it is the scarce resources, it is the challenge that we face as a country and we can work together. I am not saying we should shield the wrong doing but let’s actually appreciate it for what it is. It’s people who are battling to get jobs and then they will [give] foreign nationals as an excuse and now it’s beginning to migrate into tribalism and racism. And once we start perpetuating that, we are honestly lost as a continent. But I don’t think we have to get to that point, we fought so hard to say ‘the apartheid was wrong and I don’t think we should get ourselves into a space where all the media keeps saying ‘it’s xenophobia’. But we refuse all this, we will take good stories from our colleagues in the continent that amplifies the free trade agreement and how we are contributing in assisting one another. I don’t know whether I have responded to your question but this is a challenge that we all need to fight and refuse to give it a name,” William said.

“But what it is is that anybody who is involved in drugs is criminal. Whether it’s a South African or not, anyone who goes and burns somebody’s shop because he’s a foreigner is wrong and we should all clap together in condemning it. We need to fight these sporadic attacks, we need to fight them for whatever it is, we are not going to say ‘the reason we are hiring a CEO is because he’s white, we are saying we are hiring this person because he’s competent.”

Williams said there was no justification for crime.

“One of the things we have decided to do is to encourage dialogue. In Provincial offices, there is a lot of that kind of dialogue. We encourage conversations and dialogue. In some cases, we partner with the local churches because we believe that that kind of dialogue will go a long way in bridging the gap. As long as we don’t work on this, we will continue finding ourselves now and then having these sporadic attacks. It is a project that has to be ongoing at all times and in a similar way that there is an ongoing project in this country. For as long as we don’t want to acknowledge that we come from a past that is so wrong over a couple of years, we will continue witnessing such criminal activities,” said Williams.

“The crime in this country is just not acceptable and we are seeing it for whatever it is. The crime in this country is so high that at some point, the minister of police when he was giving the statistics he said ‘we are in trouble with crime in this country’. Precisely because there is a link, when people don’t have enough resources and they are unemployed, whether we can say it’s justified or not, it’s not justified, it’s wrong to steal from somebody. But what we are trying to do is to make sure that we strengthen our justice system. When you arrest them, a person must go to jail and serve the sentence and deal with the consequences because where you would feel that we are failing as a country. We are going to make sure that we strengthen our justice system because crime is not acceptable in our country.”