/ 17 July 2008

Call for commission of inquiry into xenophobia attacks

The Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) is calling for a commission of inquiry into xenophobic violence that killed more than 60 people and displaced at least 17 000 in South Africa.

”The May violence was almost certainly much more complicated than it initially seemed. Causes of the violence run deeper than an alleged extraordinary South African hatred of foreigners,” said CDE executive director Ann Bernstein in a statement on Thursday.

”We need an impartial, expert inquiry to take us beyond the ‘sound bites’ and basic facts to understand what happened. As things stand, and the South African economy slows down, there is every reason to fear further outbreaks,” the policy research and advocacy organisation said.

The violence started in Alexandra, Johannesburg, on May 12 and then spread to other provinces before quietening down toward the end of that month, leaving the government to deal with about 17 000 displaced foreign nationals.

Bernstein said the extent and nature of the violence needs to be investigated.

”Was violence instigated by outsiders or particular groups? How did it spread from place to place? Why did some communities participate and not others, even though they were equally poor or hosted large numbers of foreigners?,” she asked.

Also, about a third of those killed in the violence were South Africans, a factor that also requires further investigation.

Bernstein said the allocation of houses and allegations of corruption need to be probed, as well as the perception that foreigners are ”getting ahead” and ”working harder” than South Africans.

The impact of the crisis in Zimbabwe also needs to be taken into account, she added.

She questioned what role, if any, exaggerated estimates of the numbers of Zimbabwean migrants by senior politicians and a failure to acknowledge the impact of the crisis in that country on South Africans played in the violence and its timing. The role of the media in possibly provoking or encouraging attacks should also be considered.

”The May 2008 violence did terrible harm to tens of thousands of people and to the country. We need to understand what happened, and why, if we are to prevent the recurrence of murder, violence and destruction,” said Bernstein. — Sapa