/ 20 May 2008

‘Third force’ involvement in attacks

The police have ”concrete evidence” of a suspected third-force involvement in xenophobic attacks in and around Johannesburg, the Gauteng Legislature heard on Tuesday.

”The police now have concrete evidence of those involved in orchestrations and they are dealing with it,” said Gauteng’s minister for sport Barbara Creecy.

She was speaking on behalf of community safety minister Firoz Cachalia during a snap debate on the spate of violence in Gauteng in the past week.

The attacks, which started last week, have left behind a trail of destruction, which has so far claimed 24 lives and left up to 10 000 people seeking refuge in shelters.

Creecy said the total number of arrests related to the unrest now stood at 297.

Hotspots were relatively quiet during the night, added Creecy, saying the police had brought about peace and stability.

Earlier, Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa condemned xenophobic violence in the province, saying top police management would decide on the possible deployment of the army.

”The decision to deploy the army should not be a political decision, but that of senior managers of the police, based on their assessment of the situation and required capacity,” he said.

”We welcome the decision to deploy additional police in affected areas in the province. I hope this will go a long way to bringing the situation under control without having to involve the army.”

Shilowa said an inter-ministerial task team had been established to monitor the situation in xenophobic hotspots across the province.

”Yes, the situation is dire and we must intervene and intervene forcefully.

”What kind of nation are we building?” he asked.

”One which rejoices at someone who is burning, who is engulfed by flames?”

Shilowa said the country was shocked at hearing reports a few years ago that apartheid agents were ”having a braai while burying bodies”.

”The same abhorrence should apply here.”

Shilowa said the attacks had elements of xenophobia and criminality but rejected calls that a state of emergency be declared.

”While the declaration of the state of emergency is a prerogative of the president of the republic, it is important that such a declaration not be made lightly and in haste.

”A state of emergency implies that the life of a nation is threatened by war, invasion, or general insurrection.

”My view is that the current situation, dire as it is, can be handled without resorting to the declaration of a state of emergency.”

Show of force

Jack Bloom, the Democratic Alliance leader in Gauteng, called on the legislature to mandate an army deployment.

”With our townships burning we need a show of force,” he said.

Bloom will address the legislature in a special session on the state of xenophobic attacks in Gauteng at about 1pm on Tuesday.

Fresh attacks

Local media said two people were killed overnight.

One person died and two were critically injured in fresh attacks in the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Boksburg on Tuesday, the Ekurhuleni metro police said.

Spokesperson Zweli Dlamini said the violence began on Monday night when foreigners were kicked out of their shacks and attacked.

The shacks were then set alight.

”Hundreds of foreigners are now housed at the local community centre. The number is rapidly escalating and we might have to look for another shelter.”

They have been provided with food, blankets, healthcare and security.

An Actonville businessman was killed after being accused of hiring foreign workers, the Sowetan reported on Tuesday.

The man, the owner of a construction company in Benoni, had his house set ablaze by a mob who accused him of not hiring local people. He was killed in the early hours of Monday.

Actonville police spokesperson Constable Godin Nyathi said the man died inside his burning house.

He said the group that attacked the man came from the local hostel and from the Emlotheni and Emandleni informal settlements.

Tourism fears

Meanwhile, Environmental and Tourism Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk warned that the violence could cause serious damage to the country’s tourism industry.

Briefing the media in Cape Town ahead of his budget vote speech in the National Assembly on Tuesday afternoon, Van Schalkwyk said tourists from African countries were likely to avoid visiting South Africa.

”We are quite concerned about the effects of the attacks on tourism — they have the potential to impact negatively on the [African] market,” he said.

Van Schalkwyk said while his department was concerned about the impact the violence would cause to tourism, the immediate concern was around its impact on victims and their families. – Sapa