As local South African elections approach, some political parties and candidates are hoping to attract support by attacking the presence and growth of the nation's immigrant community.
South Africa's position as a major economic hub has attracted millions of migrants and asylum seekers. Now, with the global economic decline worsened by COVID-19, competition for employment opportunities has fueled resentment.
Gayton McKenzie, leader of the Patriotic Alliance party, presses for their departure.
"You are going home, you are going home, you are going home," he says, adding "When you come here, you must come as a legal foreigner with a worker's skill that we do not possess here in South Africa."
Echoing McKenzie's position are nationalistic groups such as "South Africa First" and "Operation Dudula," which want non-citizens to leave.
On the governmental level, after receiving backlash for terminating the Zimbabwe Exemption Permit which gave thousands of Zimbabweans legal residence in South Africa, South Africa’s Home Affairs ministry issued a statement insisting that legal migrants are welcome in the country. However, it says it will continue arresting and deporting migrants who enter the country illegally.
Herman Mashaba, the former Mayor of Johannesburg and current President of opposition group "Action SA," says “Action SA will establish a dedicated unit within the Metro Police Department to process any undocumented foreign national arrested for a crime.”
While Julius Malema, leader of the "Economic Freedom Fighters," has defended letting immigrants stay in South Africa, a recent statement made at a rally leaves non-citizens concerned.
“We are visiting the hospitality industry. We want the owner of Hilton hotel in Durban to tell us how many South Africans are working here,” said Malema.
South Africa’s hospitality sector is currently dominated by Zimbabweans, many who say Malema’s sentiments amongst other politicians are leaving them in fear for their lives.
Zimbabwean national Mxmolisi Ncube, who is a spokesperson for a group called “The Patriotic Front," says migrants in South Africa no longer feel safe. "It’s getting into a new level which is very worrisome, especially considering that in the past we have seen operations that have left a number of migrants dead, buildings burnt, and properties looted,” he says.
Fellow Zimbabwean Greatman Mkhwebu says South African politicians are pandering to voters by pressing Zimbabweans to go home solve Harare's problems.
“It’s their last chance of trying to make Zimbabweans act on their country’s situation, because the more they stay [in South Africa], no solution to Zimbabwe,” says Mkhwebu, adding “And worse, COVID hit [South Africa]more, and they are trying to accommodate their own people.”