South Africans protest xenophobia, violence on social media

Anti-immigrant violence spreads in South Africa
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Anti-immigrant violence spreads in South Africa 04:08

Story highlights

  • More than 10,000 people marched in Durban against violence, officials say
  • Twitter followers voiced their support through hashtag campaigns
  • A Cape Town resident tweets his complaints against a Zulu King

(CNN)As thousands of South Africans took to the streets of the city of Durban to rally against violence and xenophobia, an online community has joined the protests.

The marches follow recent violent attacks on foreigners in the country that have claimed five lives.
    During the protest march Thursday, Twitter followers voiced their support through hashtag campaigns. #PeaceMarch and #SayNoToXenophobia were some of the most popular.
    South African Police Services said more than 10,000 people attended the march, including civil rights groups and nongovernmental organizations.
    Hashtags are now pouring out of South Africa.
    But many are asking, some via Twitter, is it enough to fight #xenophobia?
    Attacks this week in Durban alone have killed two immigrants and three South Africans, including a 14-year-old boy, authorities said.

    Filing a complaint

    For South African Tim Flack, tweeting wasn't going to make a bit of difference.
    Flack, who lives in Cape Town, has brought allegations of hate speech and human rights violations against Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, who he said referred to foreigners as "lice" and has said "they should pack their bags and go."
    "People listen to him," Flack said. "He is a monarch. The Zulu people in South Africa take him very seriously, they don't question what he says."
    Flack said he was motivated to make the allegations after seeing multiple complaints about xenophobic violence on social media and thinking they weren't enough.
    So he filed a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission, and then tweeted about it.
    "The activists sit around feeling accomplished because they retweeted five times," Flack said. "I want to reach people who see that they can lay a charge and it won't cost them anything, but I will have done something to change the country and push it into a better state of being."
    Now, the Human Rights Commission must decide whether to investigate Flack's allegations against the King, who denies fueling any violence. Flack hopes others will also make complaints.
    Flack added that Zulus aren't the only people in South Africa who share in the xenophobic sentiment.
    "People are frustrated and unemployed, and people in South Africa pay foreign nationals a lot less," he said of the tension between nationals and immigrants. "A domestic worker would ask for 250 rand a day to clean a house, whereas a foreign national would ask for 150 rand, so it causes resentment."

    'We post what people understand'

    Imtiaz Sooliman, founder and chairman of the Gift of Givers Foundation in Durban, doesn't think most South Africans are against foreigners.
    "South Africans are against xenophobia," said Sooliman, who insists the majority of the country is providing an overwhelming amount of support for foreign nationals.
    Gift of Givers has been administering assistance at five refugee camps set up by the South African government that now hold roughly 8,000 foreign national refugees, he said, passing out things like clothing and hygiene packs.
    The organization posts its work at the camps online and tags it on social media with #xenophobia.
    Why?
    "In South Africa, everyone knows xenophobia," Sooliman said, "and the way a disaster agency works is we post what people understand. So if you say #tsunami or #war, people follow it. So here, people say #xenophobia, and they all know what it is -- it is a disaster, so you are going to post what people understand."
    He said South Africans also have been going to the camps, which are on sports fields with makeshift tents, bringing cooked food and other necessities.
    "This is different from what happened in 2008," Sooliman said.
    That year, scores were killed in attacks in the poorest areas of Johannesburg. Most of the victims were Zimbabweans who had fled repression and dire economic circumstances.
    Sooliman said that along with the government strongly condemning the violence, community engagement is happening now as it never happened before.
    It is a kind of national unity that can be best summed up with another hashtag that has emerged from this story: #WeAreAfrica.
    Only time, or, tweets will tell if it works.