Cape cops on full alert

Cape Town police and refugee organisations are on full alert after two Somalis were robbed and shot dead in Durbanville last weekend.

As reports of these killing—which police claim were criminal rather than motivated by xenophobia—and of threats and intimidation of foreign nationals trickled in from across the Cape peninsula, the top three Western Cape policemen ordered every station commander in the city to an emergency meeting on Tuesday.

“It is my job to make sure that we follow up every rumour and to take preventative steps,” said provincial police commissioner Mzwandile Petros. “It’s my job to do something about this [the xenophobic attacks] and we propose to set up a forum and monitor the situation very closely.”

The climate of urgency is in marked contrast with the police inertia during the attacks, which drove Somali traders from Khayelitsha and other townships in 2006, when 38 people were killed. Police failed to protect the traders and insisted the attacks, which took place over several weeks, were not xenophobic.

In response to Petros’s call about 20 civil society groups packed into the Bishop Lavis police station.
Among those present were representatives of immigrant communities, including Somalis, Angolans, Mozambicans and Congolese, religious leaders, Western Cape director-general Virginia Petersen, the Human Rights Commission and scores of journalists who crowded into the police station.

The meeting established a special safety forum and announced emergency telephone numbers to be used in case of xenophobic threats.

Petros and the foreign representatives at the meeting identified hot spots in Cape Town where groups of men are apparently going around threatening foreign nationals. Worst affected were Samora Machel in Kayelitsha, Du Noon in Milnerton—where five Somalis were shot dead in 2006—Gugulethu, Langa, Phillipi and Nyanga.

Steve Bandoma, an artist who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been living in South Africa for five years, took Petros to task at the meeting.

“My cousin arrived here only three months ago. Four men robbed and attacked her on Monday in Gugulethu saying she must go home because next time they catch her, they will kill her because she’s a foreigner,” said Bandoma.

“We’re very scared. We don’t know where to go. We don’t know where it is safe,” he said.

He told Petros that refugees are too scared to go to the police. “The police don’t treat us well—our people don’t report what happens with the police,” he said.

Bandoma has moved out of his flat in Durbanville, which he shared with other foreigners, and now lives with friends in the city. “It’s too dangerous to use the trains. We’re being threatened on the trains,” he said.

Bandoma said he had decided to go home in the longer term, saying attacks against foreigners will always happen in South Africa “because the South African leaders have forgotten what it’s like to be refugees. There’s no education happening here.”

Petros and NGOs at the meeting confirmed receiving reports that foreigners using the trains have been intimidated.

In addition to the murder of the two Somalis in Durbanville, groups of men reportedly went from door to door in Samora Machel informal settlement on Sunday, threatening foreigners and telling them to leave the country.

But local ANC councillor Monwabisi Mbaliswano reacted swiftly. Hearing of the lynch mob, he immediately organised an emergency meeting on Monday attended by about 1 000 residents. About 8 000 foreign nationals are believed to live in Samora, making up about a quarter of its total population. “It’s a violatile area with a long history of tension when it comes to foreigners,” Mbaliswano said.

At the meeting Mbalisawano said he told residents that “our national anthem talks about Africa—not South Africa”.

“I said that I am committed to peace here and will not tolerate foreigners being intimidated. We will catch these men going around intimidating people and we will deal with them,” Mbalisawano warned that xenophobia was a demon and that “we must catch and kill it before it takes over”.

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