Alarm bells ring for Indian diaspora in South Africa
Alarm bells ring for Indian diaspora in South Africa

Recent anti-immigrant protests in South Africa’s capital Tshwane (Pretoria) have brought to forefront the recurrent issue of violence against migrants in the country.

Resentment against the presence of foreign nationals in South Africa has increased in recent years. These migrants are perceived as taking jobs and opportunities away from the locals and also blamed for rise of drug-trafficking and organised crime in South Africa.

While African migrants have been the main victims, the current spate of violence has, to some extent, increased the unease of South Africans of Indian origin. Migrants from India arrived in the country over 150 years ago during the British colonial rule. Many of them were part the anti-apartheid struggle and have achieved success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen. Some are part of the government as bureaucrats, Members of Parliament and cabinet ministers in the post-apartheid period.

Their economic success and prosperity has unfortunately made the 1.5 million-strong Indian community in South Africa a target of crime by unemployed South African youth.

A majority of the Indians live in Kwazulu Natal province while others are located in Gauteng and Western Cape provinces. Freedom from apartheid has not put an end to their woes as they feel that they are marginalised as a result of the black empowerment policy of the ANC government.

While most of the xenophobic crimes have targeted foreigners of the African community, some Indians in Kwazulu Natal region fear that they may soon become victims of this violence.

What will be the impact of these developments on trade ties with India?

India’s bilateral trade with South Africa is expected to increase from $15 billion currently to $18 billion in 2018. A number of Indian companies such as Tatas, Mahindra, Ranbaxy and UB group have invested in South Africa. A large number of Indian companies use South Africa as a gateway for their operations in the rest of Africa. Thus, the continued wave of violence in the country may not go down well with India Inc.

While the South African government has taken several steps to defuse the situation, it will be an uphill task to address the demands of the volatile, unemployed South African youth, assuage the fear of the migrants, and regain the foreign investors’ confidence in the near future.

(The author is Senior Research Associate and Coordinator, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi specialising in political and security issues of sub-Saharan Africa. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to editor@spsindia.in)

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