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07 Jan 2009 13:30
Action must be taken against vigilantism to avoid a repeat of the xenophobic attacks that rocked South Africa last year, the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (Cormsa) said on Wednesday.
Advocacy officer Duncan Breen said strong action needed to be taken to combat vigilantism and he called on the South African Police Service (SAPS) and national government to take a stance against it.
This comes after a Zimbabwean and a Tanzanian fell to their deaths from a high-rise building in Durban on Sunday when they tried to escape from a 150-strong mob wielding bush knives.
Police spokesperson Superintendent Vincent Mdunge said media reports confirming three deaths were incorrect. “Only two people died,” he said.
Victor Zowa (25) and Omar Said (24) were confirmed dead, while a 23-year-old Mozambican, who was also forced to jump from a window in the building, survived.
He is currently in critical condition at a local hospital.
“The current lack of widespread condemnation of such attacks is extremely concerning,” said Breen.
“South Africa’s constitution provides for the protection of the rights of all in the country yet its provisions are consistently undermined by individuals who choose to take the law into their own hands.”
He said acts of such vigilante violence on foreigners and South Africans included the stripping and beating of a woman at Noord Street taxi rank in Johannesburg for wearing a miniskirt, and the beating of a woman in Durban’s Umlazi suburb for wearing trousers.
“If we continue to fail to take a strong stance against vigilantism, this violence will escalate and it is innocent individuals that will suffer,” he said.
Breen stressed that if people did not trust the police, the matter needed to be addressed by government.
“It is up to the SAPS, government officials and all leaders to take a strong stance to eradicate vigilantism.
This means sending out a strong message by holding all those responsible for vigilantism accountable for their actions.”
Cormsa said it had written to the KwaZulu-Natal provincial police commissioner Hamilton Ngidi requesting an urgent investigation into the Durban attack.
Earlier, Albert Park councillor Vusi Khoza said the attack, which claimed the lives of two foreign nationals, was not xenophobic.
At a meeting convened on Tuesday, he said it was established that the attacks were “a reaction of the community to crime”.
“Opportunists were beginning to paint a picture that it was xenophobia but it was not,” said Khoza, who condemned the attack and pleaded for maximum restraint.
Some foreigners, however, argued that decisions taken at the meeting were not unanimous as they were not given enough opportunity to voice their concerns.
Omar Osman, chairperson of the International Refugee Service, said he disagreed with Khoza.
“I feel these attacks were xenophobic because if the mob was targeting criminals, why not South African criminals?
“If it was criminals they were after, why not go to each and every building? Why are they only coming to buildings where foreigners live? “Why when they enter do they shout for amakwerekwere?” he questioned.
Amakwerekwere is a derogatory term for foreigners used by South Africans.
Mdunge said police had ruled out xenophobia.
Khoza said decisions taken at the meeting included setting up street committees at every block of flats.
“Each flat will have two representatives who will be the eyes and ears of the police.”
It was also agreed that the community policing forum would no longer patrol alone.
“If they patrol, they must do so with the police to make sure there is no deviation from the law,” said Khoza.
“We have also discouraged people from congregating at street corners.”
The meeting was attended by at least 500 people including police, NGOs, foreigners and businesses in the area.
Another meeting has been scheduled for next week.
“At the next gathering we will look at resolutions and formulate an implementation plan,” said Khoza. - Sapa
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