/ 15 May 2008

Criminals fingered for xenophobic strife

Criminal elements were behind xenophobic violence in Alexandra, Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Thursday.

Speaking to journalists after a meeting with community and provincial leaders, she said not only foreign nationals were attacked, but South Africans were also forced out of their houses.

”Two people who were killed were South Africans; a house belonging to a South African woman was attacked,” she said.

No foreigners taking refuge at the police station would be deported whether they were documented or not. Some wanted refugee status while others were economic migrants, she said.

”We cannot use this opportunity … people are vulnerable and handed themselves to us, we cannot do that, foreigners are under siege … we have a responsibility to provide protection for them.”

Deputy Safety and Security Minister Susan Shabangu said criminals saw an opportunity and fuelled the attacks on foreigners so they could loot their houses and rape women.

Shabangu said the police would remain in Alexandra to monitor the situation, until they were satisfied that it was calm.

She refuted allegations that police had fired live ammunition.

”Police have not used live ammunition, but if they are under attack they will fire live rounds,” she said.

Mapisa-Nqakula said there was a plan in place to return all displaced people — foreign and South African — to their houses before the end of this week.

Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba said an immigration helpdesk would be opened and schools would be visited to talk to pupils, because they [the pupils] had spearheaded the attack on the foreigners.

He said the situation in Alexandra needed to be contained to prevent it from spreading to other parts of the country.

”This [attack] has many consequences, South Africans abroad can be victims of revenge attacks,” he said.

He said there was no truth to the claim that foreigners were taking jobs and houses from locals residents.

”People who attacked foreigners are from shacks, same as the foreigners. It is a matter of homeless people rising against homeless people”.

Sergio Bila (22) from Mozambique said his computer and furniture were stolen on Tuesday night when he was attacked. He said he had been hit on the head and his right arm with an iron rod.

”If they do not want us here they should not allow us to gain entry at the border gates — they should close the gates and we will not come here,” he said.

Bila said he had no intention of returning to Mozambique, but would head to Rustenburg to look for employment on the mines. He said he had only been left with his blood soaked clothes.

Alexandra was calm on Thursday, although many streets were still strewn with debris after the clashes.


South Africans must not make foreign nationals scapegoats for their complex problems, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) said on Thursday.

”We condemn the acts of violence targeted against foreigners. During apartheid they welcomed those who had been uprooted by political turmoil,” the council’s secretary general, Eddie Makue said.

He said the council was prepared to work with those in affected areas to address the underlying factors that have given rise to ”rootlessness and frustration”.

”South Africans should do more to promote security and political stability and ensure equitable sharing of resources,” said Makue.

On Wednesday, a crisis committee of local church leaders was established in an attempt to build peace, security and justice for all, regardless of their national origins, Makue said.

Lack of SADC leadership

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the attacks exposed the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) lack of leadership in dealing with the Zimbabwean crisis.

”It is the reflection that the Zimbabwean crisis is not a Zimbabwean crisis … what happened here exposes the lack of leadership in the SADC,” said Tendai Biti, secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s opposition party.

He told reporters in Johannesburg the attacks underlined the need for the Zimbabwean crisis to be resolved so that the country’s people could return home.

Biti criticised the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission’s (ZEC) announcement on Wednesday that it would hold the run-off election within 90 days.

This delay was in breach of the Zimbabwean Constitution and the country’s electoral Act, he said.

According to Zimbabwean law, the run-off is supposed to be held within 21 days of the announcement of the election results, which took place on May 2.

”Delaying the day by 90 days … the ZEC is simply buying time for Zanu-PF,” Biti said.

He accused the commission of being ”a tool in the ruling party’s power machinations”.

The MDC wanted the run-off to take place on May 23, and it wanted the SADC to insist on the ”reconstitution of the ZEC”.

It also called on a regional body to hold an urgent summit to deal with the legality of the run-off elections, to call for an end to the ongoing violence in Zimbabwe, and to ensure political parties had the freedom of movement in order to campaign.

Biti said there were at present no talks taking place between Zanu-PF and the MDC. – Sapa