WE are appalled by the resurgence of xenophobic violence in South Africa and call on the Government in that country to clamp down on the phenomenon and deal ruthlessly with criminal elements out to spread hate and animosity.
A group calling itself the Mamelodi Concerned Residents yesterday organised a protest march in the Pretoria Central Business District against foreigners and as feared, it turned violent after being hijacked by criminals. There were reports of overnight violence on Thursday and many foreign shop-owners in Nellmapius and Mamelodi shut their doors‚ fearing looting.
On Monday‚ groups of residents looted shops in the area while Atteridgeville residents attacked foreign homeowners last weekend. Zimbabweans are frequent targets for xenophobic violence in South Africa, as well as Nigerians. The Pretoria protest came three weeks after 500 Rosettenville suburb residents in Johannesburg marched to the homes of Nigerians and set furniture alight before torching the buildings.
Despite fears of violence, authorities in Pretoria granted the organisers of the protest permission to march from the townships to the CBD. “There are also communities agitating against foreign nationals. In this regard, a protest march is planned for the 24th of February 2017, in the Pretoria CBD by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents.
“Disgruntlement raised by communities is around competition for jobs, access to economic opportunities and alleged criminal activities involving foreign nationals; these include drug peddling and prostitution,” said South Africa Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba in a statement. He said they had directed all security officials to be visible in communities and to objectively deal with criminality, regardless of whether it is committed by a South African or a foreign national.
Minister Gigaba said many countries were wrestling with anti-immigrant sentiments and South Africa was no exception. “Reckless abandonment of the core values of ubuntu will only lead us into a clumsy and irresponsible reaction. We must respond in a humane and lawful manner, taking into cognisance the genuine frustrations of communities, while remaining mindful of tempers likely to spark violence and other acts of criminality,” he said.
“There will be no progressive and sustainable victory in xenophobic violence. Opportunistic individuals who partake in it erode the human face we have struggled very hard to acquire. While a more measured approach may not make me the most popular politician, I believe it is the right thing to do.”
While we understand the reaction of the South African government and the concerns of their citizens who feel frustrated by lack of access to economic opportunities and jobs, we feel the march should not have been sanctioned for the simple reason that it would ignite a bigger problem. As it is, Zimbabweans and other foreigners who are lawfully in South Africa and upstanding members of that society feel threatened by marauding gangs who are attacking them.
It is common cause that most foreigners in South Africa are contributing immensely to that country’s economy and it is unfair for them to be labelled thieves, prostitutes and drug peddlers. We also abhor inflammatory statements being issued by people in authority as these fan hate and encourage lumpen elements in that country to carry out their dastardly deeds.
The Mayor of Johannesburg, Mr Herman Mashaba, from the opposition Democratic Alliance could have stoked the flames of xenophobic attacks with his reckless statement in which he called for the removal of all foreigners in the city. Mashaba has been blamed for the recent violence and destruction of properties purported to belong to drug lords in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg.
In a statement yesterday, the ruling African National Congress slated Mashaba for inciting violence against foreigners. “His (Mashaba) pompous call in December 2016 for foreigners to leave ‘his city’ — declaring that all foreigners in the province were illegal — in fact preceded this spate of attacks on foreigners,” said the ANC.
“The ANC notes the bitter irony of the political opposition the Democratic Alliance ‘condemning xenophobic violence’ in Gauteng when it was the reckless statements of Mayor Mashaba that lit the tinderbox of hatred in the first place. Issues of crime and illegal immigration fall within the purview of our law-enforcement and border management agencies. We should not and cannot allow vigilantism to prevail. Violence has no place in our country where we strive to promote peaceful coexistence between all those who reside within our borders,” the governing party said before calling on “our law-enforcement authorities to deal appropriately” with those found to be behind these attacks.
It also urged all South Africans, and in particular, persons in positions of leadership in communities and of political parties, to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric that stokes the flames of intolerance. We welcome the statement by the ANC and hope that South Africans will heed their Government’s call to refrain from violence against foreigners. Xenophobia has no place in modern society. It is primitive.