/ 17 May 2008

Nqakula: Xenophobic attacks to be ‘severely dealt with’

Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula said on Friday that those responsible for continuous xenophobic attacks in Gauteng townships will be ”severely dealt with”, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reported.

Nqakula was responding to the violence in Alexandra and Diepsloot that erupted in the past week, in which three people were killed and dozens injured. Displaced foreigners fled to police stations where some were still living in tents by the end of the week.

More than 1 200 people have been affected by the violence, the South African Red Cross Society estimated on Friday.

Nqakula referred to the liberation struggle, when foreigners protected South African freedom fighters in their countries.

The minister also said some of the victims in Alexandra were South Africans and therefore it was not only a matter of xenophobia. ”We are in the process now of rooting out those people [the attackers] so that our community can live peacefully,” he said.

Meanwhile, calm returned to Diepsloot late on Friday as the sun set on a day of appeals for calm by governmental and community leaders.

Provincial community safety minister Firoz Cachalia appealed for calm and told Diepsloot residents not to take the law into their own hands.

He said he understood the challenges of underdevelopment the residents were facing and said the government acknowledged these. However, no one had the right to attack, rape or kill anyone.

Community Policing Forum chairperson Samuel Seale, who lives in Diepsloot extension one, also appealed for calm, saying a 70-strong community patrol, established in February, was cooperating with police to help ensure the safety of residents.

Earlier on Friday, several groups prevented schoolchildren from getting on a school bus. Seale said the community patrol would guard bus stops to prevent this from reoccurring.

Despite the appeals for calm, residents were ”rowdy” after the speeches, said Captain Louise Reed.

However, police were able to control the crowd. The SABC reported police dispersed the crowd by firing rubber bullets.

‘Same as racism’

The xenophobia that has fuelled the attacks on residents of Alexandra and Diepsloot is the same as apartheid racism and is a crime, institutions across South Africa said on Friday.

The Gauteng African National Congress (ANC) said xenophobia is no different from the racism of apartheid.

”In the same manner that we fought against racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination, we must fight against the hatred of foreign nationals,” it said.

The ANC also said its leaders will be addressing public meetings across Gauteng this weekend to try to stop criminals using discrimination, hatred and fear to destabilise communities.

Witwatersrand University vice-chancellor Professor Loyiso Nongxa said South Africans’ apartheid history should be a warning against xenophobia.

”Our memory of apartheid as an instrument of social exclusion should strongly warn us against all forms of division and exclusion, including the xenophobia that we are presently witnessing,” he said. ”We should not take for granted any of the freedoms gained.”

The South African Red Cross Society has launched a local emergency appeal for R1-million in support of victims of this week’s xenophobic attacks.

The funds will be used to improve the living conditions of displaced locals and foreign nationals in several areas of the country and to provide basic humanitarian care. An anti-discrimination campaign will also be launched in coming days to promote peace and unity.

Red Cross volunteers and staff have assessed the needs of affected people and traced persons who went missing during the violent clashes. The estimated number of affected people thus far is more than 1 200.

The society has already been providing assistance to the displaced: volunteers and staff delivered more than 400 blankets, boxes of clothing, food parcels and hygiene packs, but more aid is urgently needed, it said. Additional blankets, food parcels, kitchen utensils and first-aid items will be covered by the budget of the R1-million emergency appeal.