International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor. File picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SIMPHIWE NKWALI.
International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor. File picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SIMPHIWE NKWALI.

International relations and co-operation minister Naledi Pandor met ambassadors and high commissioners from Africa on Monday to ease tension, after a diplomatic fallout triggered by attacks on foreign nationals in SA.

Pandor told the diplomats that the legacy of apartheid, which caused economic inequality in the country, was to blame for the attacks on Africans by locals, among other explanations

The country was hit by a wave of xenophobic violence and looting in economic hub Gauteng last week, which overshadowed the World Economic Forum meeting being held in Cape Town, where SA hoped to showcase itself and attract much-needed investment. At least 10 people were killed over the course of the week. 

This phenomenon was among a "toxic mix of socioeconomic challenges" and should not be overlooked if long-term solutions were to be found to the current crisis, Pandor said.

It was the same situation of poverty, lack of skills and economic inequalities in other African countries that continued to push migrants to the south in a quest for economic opportunities, said the minister.

As this southward migration increased, some migrants were cashing in with criminal intentions.

“Hundreds of thousands of poor unskilled, and some skilled, migrants settled in SA and began generating a livelihood from scarce assets and settled peacefully among black people,” said Pandor

“At the same time there arrived migrants whose sole intent was criminal profit and the introduction of illicit activities in SA. Of course SA has its own criminals and is a deeply violent society, thus the toxic addition of syndicates pushing drugs, prostitution and human trafficking created a basis for conflict and enmity among new neighbours.

“All this occurred alongside a complex and toxic mix of socioeconomic challenges. The legacy of apartheid was deep and rigidly entrenched inequality for black people,” said Pandor.

“While political and civil freedom soothed the wounds of apartheid, the long term and worsening economic inequality has deepened resentment and caused antipathy toward brothers and sisters from other African countries, and it is this anger and antipathy that we have to confront, eradicate and respond to.

“Perceptions that black migrants take up black jobs and displace black workers have caused increased deterioration in the relationship.”

Pandor said South Africans, during the early years of the democratic dispensation, had a “generally peaceful co-existence” until desperation and frustration sparked by deepening poverty started.

The same democracy, she said, brought about the introduction of relaxed immigration laws, leading to an uncontrollable influx of African foreign nationals into the country. 

“SA adopted progressive laws on migration and created room for expanded access to the country, with little regard to the needs of immigration management and lack of a plan as to skills or industrial development needs. The policy of refugees was utilised as a basis for demanding asylum, even by residents from countries at peace. Therefore, we need to look beyond this violence to seek answers,” she said.