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24 May 2008 08:49
South Africa’s government admitted on Friday it was aware of the potential of anti-immigrant sentiment to explode into violence amid criticism it failed to take measures to prevent it.
“Of course we were aware there was something brewing. It is one thing to know there is a social problem and another thing to know when that outburst will occur,” Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils told the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
Kasrils, who admitted on Thursday that the government had been taken by surprise by the attacks, said the “unpardonable acts” were being conducted by opportunistic elements trying to exploit and manipulate local grievances.
Anti-immigrant attacks have happened before in South Africa, albeit on a far smaller scale, and the South African Human Rights Commission had asked in March for a law against hate crime as well as other measures to protect immigrants.
The government has blamed a “third force” for orchestrating the violence against foreigners, which has seen at least 43 killed and thousands displaced in just under two weeks.
The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) claims the attacks have been deliberately unleashed ahead of next year’s general election.
South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said instead of admitting to its failures, the African National Congress government had “cast around for excuses” by claiming the violence was the result of a right-wing plot.
“It [the ANC] cannot face the fact that the state’s failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration and the almost total incapacity to process the wave of refugee applications was the short-term catalyst for the violence.
“The ANC elite will never face the fact that poverty stricken South Africans bear the brunt for government’s policy failures,” Zille wrote in her weekly online letter.
She said the government’s quiet diplomacy with neighbouring Zimbabwe and “failed foreign policy” and had been a push factor in propelling Zimbabweans to seek sanctuary in South Africa.
41 held, 81 seek refuge in Limpopo
Fourteen people were arrested after foreign nationals were attacked at Mohlaletsi village, the Limpopo local government and housing department said on Friday.
Provincial minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said the attacks happened on Thursday night in the greater Sekhukhune district municipality and resulted in foreign nationals being displaced.
The Apel police station is housing 81 foreigners who took refuge.
There were 31 Zimbabweans, 23 Mozambicans, and 24 Ethiopians.
They were suspected of instigating the attacks in which property was burned and money stolen from the foreign nationals.
The greater Sekhukhune district pitched two tents to accommodate the victims.
The Provincial Disaster Management Unit supplied mielie-meal, blankets and food parcels.
“These are barbaric acts of criminality and the people behind these attacks should be ashamed to call themselves South Africans,” Nkoana-Mashabane said.
“South Africans understand that our country belongs to the community of nations; our struggle for freedom and democracy was an international struggle.
“The challenges we face today cannot be overcome without the support and assistance of the international community, therefore these attacks must stop.”
Provincial departments and other stakeholders involved in disaster management would coordinate efforts to ensure displaced foreign nationals were assisted with what they needed while law enforcement agencies attended to the law breakers, said Nkoana-Mashabane.
Earlier on Friday, police spokesperson Superintendent Ronel Otto said a group of people attacked homes rented by foreign nationals in the Mohlaletsi area on Thursday night.
“They broke down the doors and entered the rooms, demanding money.”
A 28-year-old man from Mozambique was assaulted and stabbed in the shoulder.
She said the mob took television sets, DVD machines and set fire to three rooms. Two vehicles were also damaged.
The injured man was taken to hospital for treatment.
The fourteen people arrested would be charged with murder, armed robbery and malicious damage to property. - Sapa, AFP
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