There is no campaign to drive foreigners out of Alexandra, said African National Congress (ANC) provincial chairperson Paul Mashatile on Wednesday outside the home of a victim of this week’s alleged xenophobic attacks in the Johannesburg township that have claimed three lives.
He said the violence that erupted in Alexandra was “an act of criminality” and expressed the party’s concern over the situation.
Police spokesperson Director Govindsamy Mariemuthoo on Wednesday said the situation was calm after it had flared up again on Tuesday evening. Dozens of displaced residents remained at the Alexandra police station by Wednesday afternoon.
Media reports on Wednesday said Alexandra had turned into a war zone on Tuesday night as angry locals armed with pangas, sticks and golf clubs roamed Extension 7. The Star reported that some residents stood on their doorsteps flashing their identity documents to prove they were South Africans.
ANC national executive committee member Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, accompanied by provincial ministers from Gauteng and senior ANC leadership figures in the province, on Wednesday visited the families of two of those who had died in the violence to sympathise with them.
South African citizen Pretty Nzama’s husband, Siphiwe (also a South African), was killed in the attacks on Sunday night. Nzama — who was visited by Madikizela-Mandela who prayed with her — said men came into her home and shot her husband for no reason, leaving her and her seven-year-old child behind.
Earlier, curious onlookers lined the street as Madikizela-Mandela was accompanied by a large security contingency. She was also followed by a number of media representatives in their vehicles, bringing traffic in the township to a halt.
The former wife of Nelson Mandela spoke to foreign residents who were displaced by the violence and had sought shelter at the Alexandra police station.
“I am sorry … It is not all South Africans that are like this,” she told the group.
Gilbert Sibanda, who was among the displaced residents addressed by Madikizela-Mandela, said: “These people [the attackers] were not sent by the public and that they were not citizens of South Africa.”
Sibanda — who claimed that he was beaten up and robbed on Monday evening in the xenophobic attacks — said he was told the government was trying to resolve the problem and ensure that those who were displaced could return to their homes.
Madikizela-Mandela’s visit came three days after the eruption of violence and xenophobic attacks in the sprawling township north of Johannesburg, fuelled by anger over houses in the area over houses allegedly given to foreign nationals while locals lived in shacks.
Meanwhile, the reactive policy of arresting and deporting illegal immigrants in
South Africa needs to change, the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) said on Wednesday.
“What we want is for government to accept that this population of immigrants is a permanent feature of South Africa’s demographics … and that current policy revolves around arrests and deportation which are simply pointless when dealing with a mass influx,” said SAIRR deputy chief executive Frans Cronje.
“A level of legal of standing for foreign immigrants, according them certain rights and standing that allows them access to services such as banking and legal employment … is necessary.”
Cronje said 3,5-million “ghosts” in the country pose a threat to the country’s security and that there are many more “pros” to formalising their status than there are disadvantages.
“They are the perfect criminal target … when they become victims of crime and try to report it, they are arrested for being illegal at the same time,” he said, in reaction to the violent attacks in Alexandra.
The attacks have drawn criticism and condemnation from all sectors of society. On Tuesday, various NGOs, churches and government departments pitched in to support those displaced by the violence and find a solution to the problem.
There is a danger of “many Alexandras” to follow if the government does not take action on xenophobic attacks, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande warned on Wednesday.
The Sowetan newspaper on Wednesday appealed to its readers in a front-page opinion piece to “do unto refugees as you would them do to you”, saying “we are free and have a Constitution that guarantees rights to life, dignity and justice, also thanks to the support of fellow Africans”.
“They sheltered, clothed and fed us, often at great personal cost, throughout those bitter times. The fight against apartheid was inextricably linked to the continent’s struggle against colonialism and the dehumanisation of Africans.
“Unfortunately, some among us fail to understand that our freedom means nothing if we do not express its ideals in our interaction with other human beings, sojourners or refugees,” the piece read.
It added that the biggest problem facing the country, post-apartheid, is “sensitising black people to recognise that xenophobia is a projection of their own self-hate, a manifestation of years of colonial dehumanisation they and their forefathers suffered”.
It said the government cannot solve the problem alone and called on the citizens of South Africa to “do their bit”.
“Let’s start by treating African sisters and brothers the way we would like to be treated. Fortunately, not all of us have lost our ubuntu. The violent, ignorant behaviour of a rogue minority of xenophobes can never be a reflection of our attitude towards foreigners.
“The violence in Alexandra is the work of a few self-hating dunderheads who resent foreign nationals for exposing their lack of self-worth,” it said.
Cronje added that there is more going on in Alexandra than xenophobia; criminals are also taking advantage of the chaos. It is also an expression of frustration by the poor of South Africa.