These xenophobic acts, apparently aimed at foreign shop owners and residents, patently disregard those constitutional values and rights that seek to ensure a society based on human dignity, equality, and freedom and security of the person. According to media reports the police have denied that the attacks have been xenophobic in nature. Instead, they blame the violence on criminal elements within the community.

The government has a constitutional duty to ensure that the right of every person in South Africa to be free from all forms of violence is protected and realised – regardless of their nationality, or whether that violence is from public or private sources. As such, the South African Police Service (the SAPS) and other law enforcement entities cannot turn a blind eye when foreign businesses are being looted and foreign nationals are being attacked. Although many arrests have reportedly been made by the SAPS, and the President has apparently instructed the Cabinet security cluster “to bring the situation under control and work towards restoring normalcy“, these senseless acts of violence cannot be prevented by means of law enforcement and policing alone.

Instead, what we desperately need in South Africa is a renewed sense of tolerance, mutual respect, and devotion to our constitutional values. However, such a frame of mind cannot be policed, but must be promoted by everyone – from the President and political leaders, to the people of South Africa.

Our Constitution does not accept a society in which people are persecuted because of nationality, race, ethnicity, culture, language, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, or any other ground. Neither should we.  

Issued by the FW de Klerk Foundation and the Centre for Constitutional Rights

 Photo credit: The Advocacy Project / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA