/ 26 May 2008

Minister: Xenophobic violence under control

Xenophobic violence against foreign nationals has been brought under control, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said on Monday.

”I do believe the situation is under control … the violence has subsided,” he said at a briefing at the Union Buildings in Pretoria following an inter-governmental task team meeting with President Thabo Mbeki.

The team was established shortly after xenophobic attacks erupted in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township.

Nqakula said the briefing with Mbeki was to discuss the progress made following the attacks as well as to deal with welfare issues and national security resulting from the attacks.

”To date, 1 384 suspects have been arrested. Many of them were involved in violence and robbery,” he said.

He added that 342 shops belonging to foreign nationals across the country had been looted, while 213 had been burnt down. The death toll following the attacks stood at 56.

The minister said health issues had also surfaced as those seeking asylum (which included children and pregnant women) had to be housed at various city halls and police stations.

He said a meeting would be held on Monday night to discuss issues such as moving people who had been displaced by the violence to temporary welfare centres.

On whether the government had responded timeously following the attacks, Nqakula said government had done so.

”Nobody can say we didn’t respond. At local level the leadership responded. There has been response from security services, provincial legislation; there has not been a void,” he said.

He said that it was strange that foreigners were being attacked when some South Africans had taken refuge in neighbouring countries during the apartheid years.

Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, who was present at the briefing, said that just because the situation was under control did not mean sporadic attacks could not still take place.

Should this happen the government would respond accordingly, he said.

On the issue of the Department of Home affairs suspending deportations of foreign nationals, Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said: ”It is not the first time we have suspended the deportation of undocumented immigrants. We feel as the government [that] we can’t take advantage of people who have been displaced.”

However, Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said the government was documenting the movements of people across the border.

Border control

Meanwhile, lack of proper control at border posts has led to an influx of illegal immigrants, chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on home affairs Patrick Chauke said on Monday.

Speaking after visiting areas in Gauteng hit by attacks on foreign nationals, he said most foreigners entered the country over fences and not through border gates.

”The soldiers have moved out from patrolling the border and the task was given to the police. With their stretched capacity we cannot win the situation at the border,” he said.

This did not mean that foreigners should be prevented from entering the country, but should do so legally and be issued with proper documents, he said.

Chauke was part of a task team established by the National Assembly that visited Alexandra and parts of Ekurhuleni to talk to victims of xenophobic violence and get a sense of the gravity of the situation.

He said there were plans to establish more refugee centres.

Leader of the task team Obed Bapela said they would draft a preliminary report in three weeks’ time. This would then be debated in the National Assembly.

”We do not have a solution for the situation,” he said.

Bapela said while in Alexandra the violence seemed to be orchestrated, in Tembisa criminals had seen it as an opportunity.

Mayor of Ekurhuleni Duma Nkosi said local residents had expressed concerns about a lack of delivery of basic services.

”Some issues [raised] cannot be settled in the shortest possible time as they need interaction from both parties,” Nkosi said.

He said service delivery was not the only cause of the violence as South Africans were also attacked and had their houses or businesses looted.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since the outbreak of the xenophobic attacks in Gauteng two weeks ago. It has since spread to other provinces.

Defence force

About 10 000 refugees from xenophobic attacks were being housed at seven ”safe havens” set up by the City of Cape Town, its head of disaster management, Wilfred Solomons-Johannes, said on Monday evening.

Another 10 000 were still ”out on the road” — a category that included those staying in community halls and churches.

The city was sending out mediators and translators in a bid to persuade people to move to the havens, where they would be protected from attack and provided with basic humanitarian aid including food, blankets and health care.

The havens, scattered around the metro, include beach resorts and a military camp.

City mayor Helen Zille earlier on Monday called for the defence force to be deployed as peacekeepers when foreigners began returning to the communities from which they had fled.

Zille said in a statement that the city would support the reintegration of people who wanted to return to their homes.

It would also support efforts to return those displaced foreign nationals who wanted to go back to their home countries.

”In the current climate of unrest, the process of reintegrating displaced people into their communities will require a peacekeeping force to be deployed to the most sensitive hot spots around our city,” she said. — Sapa