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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 11:47 GMT 12:47 UK
S Africa grapples with new racism
Protesters outside South African court
Racism is suspected in some inter-ethnic violence
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By the BBC's Carolyn Dempster
Johannesburg
line

Scratch the surface of post-apartheid South Africa, and deep-rooted racism lurks underneath.

Almost every week, newspapers carry reports of another racist attack, or a racially motivated murder.

"People's attitudes haven't changed," says Dr Zonke Majodina, a commissioner at the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

Maria Matloha, mother of murdered teenager Tshepo
A mother mourns a victim of an apparently racial attack
Apartheid bred racial hatred, but what does it take for a person to act on these deep-seated hostile impulses?

The crime intelligence unit of the South African Police Service says alcohol abuse plays an important contributing role.

In 60% of murders it has been found to be a key factor.

Pieter Odendaal told the court he couldn't remember what happened on the night in August 2000 when he tied his black employee, Mosoko Rampuru, to the back of his pickup truck by a length of wire, and drove through the industrial outskirts of the town of Sasolburg, until Rampuru's lifeless body had been stripped of flesh.

Alcohol

Mr Odendaal's defence was that he was on anti-depressants and had been drinking heavily at the time.

Police conducted blood tests that revealed he was five times over the legal limit.

Dr Majodina of the human rights commission thinks that people act on their racist impulses not only because alcohol lowers their inhibitions, but because they think they can still get away with it.

"There are serious flaws in the criminal justice system.

"People have been cowed into submission over decades. They don't know their rights.

"And when they do complain about abuse, particularly on the farms, sometimes the system operates like nothing has changed. The criminal justice system is failing these people," she said.

  Click here to see international murder rates compared

Some of the worst racial crimes have occurred in remote areas on rural farmsteads.

Dr Majodina claims that in parts of the Northern Cape, black farmworkers are still subjected to subhuman employment conditions.

Farm attacks

Since the early 1990's there has also been an increase in violent attacks on white farmers.

A commission of enquiry set up by former president Nelson Mandela has failed to find the root cause of the attacks.

A farmer installs fencing for protection against attack
Some white farmers fear they are political targets
Criminologist Neels Moolman has said that the attacks are symptomatic of a deep hatred of Afrikaners and a desire to drive the white farmers off their land.

Martin Schonteich, a senior crime analyst with the Institute for Security Studies, doesn't agree.

But he does believe that race plays a part: "Young black South Africans had high expectations of what democracy would bring. Jobs, a better quality of life. That hasn't happened.

"So there is a certain amount of disillusionment and anger against white people because they DO have wealth."

While race has underscored crime in South Africa for centuries, a new phenomenon of democracy has been a rise in xenophobia.

Magnet for migrants

Once South Africa opened its borders to the rest of Africa in 1994, the country became a magnet, not just for refugees, but economic migrants from the rest of the continent.

As a result, literally millions of illegal immigrants have flowed across South Africa's porous land borders from as far afield as Somalia and Nigeria in search of a better life and greater opportunities.

Mourners carry the coffin of Tshepo Matloha, whose death is the subject of a murder trial
Reports of racial attacks are common
Locally they are known, and widely despised as the "Amakwerekwere", a derogatory term for foreigners.

The popular perception among South Africans struggling to survive is that the foreigners represent competition in the fight for jobs.

Where this resentment boils over is usually at street level, in violent clashes between hawkers trading on the sidewalks of the cities.

In more extreme cases, the foreigners are targeted for murder. In September 1998, three Senegalese nationals were murdered on a crowded train going from Pretoria to Johannesburg.

This high-profile killing, coupled with the rise in xenophobic attacks prompted the Human Rights Commission to launch a national plan of action "Roll Back Xenophobia".

Dr Zonke Majodina says it has had limited success: "We've seen a slight shift in attitudes as a result of better media reporting. But from what we can see there has been no shift in official policy-making attitudes."

Abuse of power

South African officials currently carry out policy according to the Aliens Control Act which gives the police and Home Affairs officials virtually unfettered power to apprehend, detain, and expel illegal immigrants.

South African border guards
Security forces are accused of having unfettered power
The worst abuse of this power was revealed on national television in 2000, when six policemen from the Police Dog Unit east of Johannesburg were videoed using three Mozambican men as live bait to train their dogs.

A report into the treatment of immigrants by police and detention centre officials conducted by the Human Rights Commission found that abuses, extortion and physical attacks on foreigners are quite frequent.

And, says Dr Majodina, the new legislation governing illegal immigrants which is due to go before parliament this year is "just as xenophobic" as the old law.

Self-hate

Dr Majodina ties in this "new racism" with the apartheid of old.

"Black on black attacks are sometimes an expression of self-hate. That's what oppression does to people.

"But if we keep the focus on this, on racism, then gradually we will change attitudes, we will make some headway," she added.

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See also:

29 Nov 01 | Africa
SA police jailed for dog attacks
28 Jan 02 | Africa
SA rugby murder trial begins
30 Aug 00 | Africa
South Africa: Racism runs deep
09 Oct 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
South African farmers fear widespread attacks
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