Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you make the most of staying home.
Visit the hub

A man wears a mask and gloves as a preventive measure in Johannesburg, South Africa, on March 18, 2020.

MICHELE SPATARI/AFP/Getty Images

In the midst of its novel coronavirus crisis, the South African government is allocating $3.1-million to build 40 kilometres of fence on its border with Zimbabwe. It says the fence will prevent any “infected persons” from entering the country – even though Zimbabwe has no confirmed cases of the virus.

Fences, both real and metaphorical, are rising fast at borders across Africa, and even within countries. There have been widespread border closings, travel bans and flight shutdowns, but the COVID-19 pandemic is also creating barriers of discrimination and hostility among people of different ethnicities, social class or nationality.

In Africa, the virus is often seen as a foreign import, spread by visitors from Europe or Asia, or by wealthy locals who travelled to those regions and brought the virus home with them. The result has been a wave of xenophobia and racial prejudice in some countries.

Story continues below advertisement

So far, more than 730 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in 34 countries across Africa, and the number has been expanding swiftly. Most cases at first were imported, but now there have been cases of local transmission in at least 14 African countries.

Africa, of course, is far from the only region of the world where the coronavirus crisis is triggering racism and social tension. The attacks in Africa are unique only in that they are targeting groups that are usually seen as privileged or relatively affluent.

In Ethiopia, there are growing reports of violence against foreigners. The U.S. embassy in Ethiopia issued a warning this week, describing a “rise in anti-foreigner sentiment” and a number of incidents of harassment and assault of foreigners in Ethiopia, directly related to COVID-19.

“Reports indicate that foreigners have been attacked with stones, denied transportation services (taxis, etc), been spat on, chased on foot, and been accused of being infected with COVID-19,” the U.S. embassy statement said.

It urged U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to avoid walking alone and to lock the doors of their cars.

Journalists in Ethiopia have reported that some residents have begun calling foreigners “corona,” while others are attacking foreigners on social media by publishing photos of them and linking them to the coronavirus.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of Ethiopia, in a statement this week, warned that “dangerous rumours” and “vicious posts” are being spread on the internet about foreign journalists, while other foreigners have been physically attacked. It advised journalists to be cautious.

Story continues below advertisement

In Kenya, a video showed a large crowd of people bullying an Asian man and woman in a Nairobi neighbourhood. “You are coronavirus, you are coronavirus,” people in the crowd yelled at them.

A Kenyan member of parliament, in a Facebook message last month, said his constituents had the right to stone and chase away any Chinese visitors who were not quarantined.

In South Africa, a tour bus of white visitors in downtown Johannesburg last weekend was repeatedly heckled with “corona, corona” shouts by local residents. On social media, some South Africans have claimed that the virus is being imported by “rich white people” – a sentiment that could fuel social tension as the COVID-19 crisis continues to escalate in the country, with about 200 cases confirmed so far.

South Africa’s third-biggest political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, called for a ban on all travel to the country from “coronavirus-infected countries, in particular Europe” – and demanded that anyone who tested positive for the virus should be quarantined at Robben Island, the island where anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

Eusebius McKaiser, a prominent South African writer and broadcaster, says he has heard frequent comments that COVID-19 is “not serious in South Africa but is mostly a virus that is affecting white Europeans and China.” The subtext of these comments, he said, is that the virus is “payback” to the Global North “for the histories of colonialism and racism.”

In reality, COVID-19 is likely to have a disproportionate impact on the poor and vulnerable in South Africa, because of underlying chronic diseases such as HIV that could make it difficult for them to fight off the virus, Mr. McKaiser wrote in an essay in the Mail & Guardian newspaper in South Africa this week.

Story continues below advertisement

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies