South Africa Sees Rise of Anti-Immigrant Political Rhetoric
A new political party in South Africa wants the government to expel all foreigners.
The African Basic Movement party claims that foreigners bring crime into the country. It also says they are responsible for high unemployment.
Political observers say the party is unlikely to win many seats in the South African general elections next year. But they say its appearance shows that the wave of nationalist, populist politics in other countries has come to South Africa.
Thembelani Ngubane is the head of the African Basic Movement, which he started last year. Ngubane says his group already has tens of thousands of members and signatures that support a plan to expel all foreigners by the end of the year. Those numbers could not be independently confirmed.
The party recently registered to compete in the 2019 elections. But critics question whether its goals follows South Africa's progressive, inclusive constitution. They also wonder whether the party's positions are dangerously close to hate speech, which is illegal in South Africa.
"We should get rid of all foreigners who are here, they are taking South Africa's jobs," Ngubane told VOA.
"They sleep with our sisters. They give them children. They get married to them so that they get South African citizenship. When they get them, they abandon them ... So South Africa is like chaos. And they are criminals. We can't catch them. They have no fingerprints because they are from other countries."
About two million foreign nationals live in South Africa. The latest population count shows that most come from neighbouring countries, such as Zimbabwe. However, the actual number is thought to be higher.
The rise in xenophobic politics is extremely worrying, says Sharon Ekambaram of the rights group Lawyers for Human Rights. She warns it could lead to xenophobic violence because South Africa sometimes experiences violent clashes between unsatisfied citizens and foreign nationals.
"I can't even articulate how dangerous this is for our democracy," Ekambaram said, talking about the rise of Ngubane's party.
"This is clearly a group that is racist. They're xenophobic … and I don't think there's a place for those kinds of people in our country.”
She also said that, if the group has registered as a party, election officials should then investigate whether that is constitutional.
Ekambaram added that the party's ideas are weak. She said researchers have found that foreign nationals are often job creators, and do not cause more violent crime than South African citizens.
ANC opens the door
Another observer, Ralph Mathekga, says he is concerned, but not that the African Basic Movement will beat the ruling African National Congress or ANC in the elections. What worries him, he says, is that the movement’s extreme ideas will enable other nationalist beliefs to gain standing.
Mathekga believes the many corruption cases involving the ANC and its inability to reduce unemployment and poverty make it easier for other parties to compete.
"I'm not surprised," he told VOA about the rise of the African Basic Movement.
"South Africa's politics is going in that direction, of populism. You have always had that level of leftist populism that has been there within South African politics. But the thing that is very, very different is the emergence of nationalist populism.”
Pointing to the United States, Ngubane praises President Donald Trump's policies against illegal immigration. He shares the U.S. leader's beliefs.
"Donald Trump is putting Americans first. Here, we are putting South Africans first. You see, you cannot let your child sleep on [an] empty stomach and feed your neighbour's child. That is the problem. Here in South Africa, our children sleep on empty stomach. Our neighbours like Pakistan, Chinese, they sleep on full stomach. We don't want that."
Anita Powell reported this story for VOANews.com. Phil Dierking adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Culled from VOA Learning English