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Page last updated at 11:05 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 12:05 UK

Canada SA refugee ruling 'racist'

A man holding two knives
South Africa has an annual murder rate of 18,000

South Africa's ruling African National Congress has condemned as "racist" a decision by Canada to grant a white South African man refugee status.

Brandon Huntley, 31, had told officials in Canada he could not return to South Africa after seven different attacks.

They included three stabbings, which he said he had suffered as a result of his skin colour.

His lawyer said he was granted asylum because the South African authorities were unable to protect their citizens.

But ANC spokesman Brian Sokutu told the BBC that the decision would "only serve to perpetuate racism" in South Africa.

SOUTH AFRICA'S RACIAL GROUPS
Black: 80%
White: 9%
Coloured (Mixed race): 9%
Asian: 2%

"We take this matter very seriously because it has something to do with tarnishing the image of the country," he said.

Race is a sensitive issue in the country, still scarred by decades of white-minority rule, which ended in 1994.

Hundreds of thousands of white South Africans have left the country since the end of apartheid, many citing rising crime and the difficulty of finding jobs.

'Alarming'

Mr Sokutu said President Jacob Zuma was committed to fighting crime in South Africa, which has an annual murder rate of 18,000, but not on the basis of colour.

South African views on the Brandon Huntley race row

"We're committed to creating a stable and safe environment for all South Africans, regardless of the colour of their skin and we think that dealing with crime along racial lines can only serve to divide the South African nation," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board ruled last week that Mr Huntley could stay in Canada.

Canada's Ottawa Sun newspaper quoted the panel's chairman, William Davis, as saying he would stand out like a "sore thumb" due to his colour in any part of South Africa.

Mr Huntley's lawyer Russell Kaplan said the asylum was granted because of discrimination - not only over crime - but also because as a white man he would find it difficult to get a job.

"The big question throughout was - was this just an act of criminality or was there a racial motivation? And every single time there was evidence that they were not just victims of criminality, that there was a racial component in the incidents," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

Bridgette Lightfoot of Homecoming Revolution, which encourages white South Africans to return home, disputed the claims.

"I myself have lived overseas for six years and I've been back for eight months and we really don't feel there's this racial prejudice against white people," she told the BBC.

Sympathy

The South African Institute of Race Relations said the country does still face racial challenges.

A black and white South Africans hold hands at an ANC rally
Race is a sensitive issue in the country still scarred by white-minority rule

But in a statement the institute's deputy head Frans Cronje said he found the reports of "the persecution of white South Africans to be largely without foundation."

On the streets of Johannesburg, opinions were mixed about the case.

"Thugs attack you because they believe you have something they want," said Diketso Lekhelebane.

"There is still the perception that white people have money all the time maybe that's why he was targeted."

"As a white South African I understand and support the basis for affirmative action but as a mother of three I'm concerned about my children's future and what kind of jobs they will get," university lecturer Tracey McKay told the BBC.

White people still dominate Africa's biggest economy, with average living standards far higher than for other racial groups.

But some complain they are being deprived of jobs by the government's black affirmative action programme.

The government says this is needed to help the black majority recover from years of discrimination during apartheid.



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