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Backlash In South Africa

Like most South Africans, the Unites States is shocked by the wave of violent attacks against foreigners living there. The violence has cast a pall over a country that prides itself as a welcoming "Rainbow Nation." Government leaders there must do more to end the violence, both to protect those from neighboring counties and their own citizens.

Since the attacks began, angry gangs have rampaged, looted and in some cases burned homes and businesses associated with foreigners and South African minority ethnic groups. Forty-two people have been killed and fifteen thousand displaced. The victims have largely been émigrés from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African countries, but members of South Africa’s Shangaan, Venda and other ethnic groups were also reportedly targeted. Police are stretched thin responding to calls in one area as fighting breaks out in others.

Frustrations over unemployment and rising food and energy prices have helped fuel the unrest. This pressure has grown with the recent political upheaval in Zimbabwe, which has seen thousands of people flee poverty and repression. Criminal elements also are exploiting the situation, taking the opportunity to attack, loot and rape.

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has made great strides in democracy and human rights. The ugly xenophobia and inter-ethnic violence seen in the recent attacks threatens these accomplishments. The Pretoria government has stepped up its response and it is hoped that the authorization of South African armed forces to serve in a support role will aid police efforts to control the situation and put a rapid end to the reprehensible behavior of those engaging in violence.