/ 15 May 2008

Task team to probe xenophobic attacks

A special task team will investigate the cause of the recent xenophobic attacks in Alexandra and elsewhere in the country, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said on Thursday.

The team will make recommendations about steps required to prevent a recurrence of this ”negative tendency”, he told a media briefing at Parliament following Cabinet’s regular meeting on Wednesday.

”In the meantime, law-enforcement agencies will use the full force of the law to ensure that no further violence takes place, and those who engage in [these activities and] actively encourage and incite communities to attack foreign nationals must and will be brought to justice as soon as possible,” he said.

The task team will be convened by the Department of Home Affairs and include the safety and security, social development, health and education departments, as well as the Presidency.

A government delegation led by Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula is visiting Alexandra in Johannesburg on Thursday to meet residents and affected foreign nationals in an attempt to assess the situation.

The Cabinet condemned the attacks in the ”strongest possible terms” and called on communities to be vigilant and avoid being manipulated by provocateurs who seek to exploit people’s fears and concerns, Maseko said.

”These attacks represent a dangerous tendency that is foreign to South African history and consciousness.”

They appear to be instigated by elements bent on taking advantage of the genuine fears of communities for narrow political ends.

However, no amount of economic hardship and discontent can ever justify the criminal activity and bigotry these attacks represent, and any suggestion that poor service delivery and rising cost of living are to blame should be rejected with the contempt it deserves, he said.

Equally, any suggestions that foreigners alone are responsible for the high crime levels are totally misplaced and detract from the fact that many South Africans are involved in crime.

For many decades, South Africans in Alexandra and many parts of the country have lived side by side with foreign nationals with no acts of violence.

South African laws protect all foreign nationals, whether they are here legally or otherwise, and any violent behaviour towards foreign nationals should be rejected by all, Maseko said.

”The majority of South Africans are peace-loving people who always seek peaceful means of resolving their problems.

”South Africa’s transition to democracy was one of the world’s best testimonies of tolerance and peaceful co-existence and we cannot allow a few individuals to reverse and undermine our historical achievements.

”It is too soon to forget the hospitality that was given to South Africans who were in exile in the neighbouring countries and the rest of the continent during the days of apartheid,” Maseko said.

‘Unruly and destructive behaviour’

Meanwhile, the outbreak of violence in Diepsloot is not due to xenophobia, but some residents ”behaving like hooligans”, a local African National Congress (ANC) representative said on Thursday.

”Xenophobia is no longer the issue here, this is pure hooliganism together with criminal elements,” said Chris Vondo, ANC secretary at Zone 14 in Diepsloot, north-west of Johannesburg.

He said that groups of people had been looting and breaking down spaza shops — mostly belonging to Somalis — as well as barricading roads, despite a heavy police presence.

”People are even drunk now; they are not saying anything about foreigners being in the area, because this is no longer the problem. It’s just unruly and destructive behaviour,” he said.

Vondo said he knew of at least two injuries as a result of mob violence during Wednesday night, but there were none on Thursday.

A number of people who have lost their homes, or have left due to fear of attacks, are being sheltered at the Johannesburg metro police offices.

He said that leadership groups in the area will meet residents later to discuss their issues.

”We want to interact with them, and see what the real issue is here,” Vondo said.

As the ANC leadership in Alexandra moved on Thursday to distance itself from news reports indicating it had fingered the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the xenophobic attacks, the IFP said it had in turn information that an ANC councillor is behind the Alexandra township violence.

Earlier on Thursday, the ANC said a report it has handed to Johannesburg mayor Amos does not implicate any political party in the clashes, as some news media had reported.

Spokesperson Sizakele Nkosi said the report instead indicates that there is a rumour that the xenophobic attacks started near hostels that are a stronghold of the IFP.

”It can’t be that the IFP is behind these attacks, rather criminal elements are.”

In a later statement, Gauteng IFP spokesperson Bonginkosi Dhlamini rejected any allegation that the IFP ”is in some way involved in the violent attacks on foreigners in Alexandra”.

He went on to say his party ”has received information that a member of the [Alexandra] Community Police Forum, who is also [a] policeman and an ANC ward councillor, is behind these attacks”.

There was no immediate comment from the ANC.

Dhlamini said when an IFP delegation visited Alexandra earlier in the week, they ”denounced these acts of violence in the strongest possible manner”.

”We also committed ourselves to assist the police in any way possible to arrest the guilty parties.”

He said parties should join forces to ”stop this hate crime and we must protect our African brothers and sisters in Alexandra”. — Sapa