South Africa should prosecute perpetrators of xenophobic violence that has seen at least seven people lose their lives in the past few weeks, says Tiseke Kasambala, a deputy director with the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA).
Kasambala told VOA in an interview Friday that impunity in the 2008 xenophobia attacks was largely to blame for recurring attacks targeting foreigners as the South African government continues to reluctantly prosecute assailants for lesser crimes and not murder.
“I was here in 2008 when I was working for Human Rights Watch during that first cycle of xenophobic violence when 62 people were killed,” she said.
“During that time one of the things we pushed for was for those who have committed heinous crimes to be brought to justice and what we saw was that there were very few successful prosecutions. Infact since 2008, almost seven years since that violence broke out and 62 people were killed, there has never been a successful prosecution for murder of those who were arrested at the time for killing foreign nationals.”
“Once again we are concerned by the impunity that seems to accompany xenophobic violence where people are being arrested and not being charged with murder.”
Only one murder charge has been preferred against South African nationals who allegedly murdered a Mozambican national in Alexandria.
Kasambala says more prosecutions would help ensure foreigners in South Africa that the government is serious about protecting them.
Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders, she adds, should push for justice for the families of those who have been killed.
The SADC tribunal, which could have helped push for justice, unfortunately had its human rights mandate removed by the regional leaders limiting ordinary people’s appeal routes in such cases.
“This limits just how far SADC as a body can push some of these issues in terms of individual cases,” said Kasampala.
“Like for example what happened in 2008, if the relatives of those killed in 2008 had found out that they could not get justice here in South Africa they would have been able to push it to the SADC tribunal but that was not the case. There needs to be a facilitation of the successful prosecutions of the perpetrators against foreign nationals and SADC leaders have a role to play in pushing for this.”
Beyond SADC leaders, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights can also play a role in ensuring there are investigations and successful prosecutions, she said.
“We would like to see further engagement with the African Union and the SADC in pushing the government of South Africa because what we see is that impunity leads to further cycles of violence."
"Those who killed in 2008 thought that they got away with it and could therefore kill this time around and perpetrate other acts of violence this time around too,” the OSISA deputy director said.
President Jacob Zuma on Friday met with a group of foreign nationals representing different African countries in Pretoria to listen to their grievances following the xenophobic attacks.
Many argue the South African government has not done enough to protect foreign nationals, only being pushed into action by the boycott of South African companies and products in African countries like Malawi, Zambia and Nigeria.