Foreign nationals 'displacing themselves'
The situation of foreign nationals on the N1 near Paarl was “completely different” to that of those displaced by xenophobic violence in 2008, the head of disaster management in the Western Cape said on Tuesday.
Then, there had been actual violence and threats, and the state had had a clear responsibility to respond, Hildegarde Fast said.
“Clearly this is a completely different situation.”
She was speaking as scores of foreigners, mostly Zimbabweans, camped out at a truck stop on the N1 in the hope of getting a lift north.
Many told reporters they were fleeing Cape Town and surrounding towns because of fears of a resurgence of xenophobic violence once the Soccer World Cup ended.
Some had items of furniture with them as they waited at the roadside in the hope of securing lifts with truckers.
Fast said that unlike 2008, those at the truck stop were there voluntarily, and not as a result of violence. They had responded to rumours.
“We are taking the approach that we must be very careful not to add rumour to rumour,” she said.
She added that it was a time of year, at the end of the agricultural season in the Western Cape, when many people returned to Zimbabwe voluntarily anyway, so the issue also had to be seen in that context.
Braam Hanekom, spokesperson for refugee rights organisation Passop, said earlier on Tuesday that it was “really, really sad” that foreign nationals could feel so unprotected, and that they were prepared to “displace themselves” on the basis of rumours.
However, it had to be understood that rumours could create a very hostile environment for foreigners.
Police in the Western Cape had been quick to respond, he said, and had re-established the safety forum set up following the outbreak of xenophobic violence in 2008.
“They’ve given us a list of every police station commander that we can contact 24 hours a day if there’s anything of a xenophobic nature,” he said.
Passop recognised the efforts being made by politicians at a national and provincial level.
However, it was important to get municipal councillors, some of whom had in the past instigated violence against foreigners, to also take a stand against xenophobia.
“The difficulty with this rumour is that it’s created such tension in communities that one isolated incident might spread to other communities quickly,” Hanekom said.
He said that in addition to the foreigners leaving Cape Town here had been a lot of intra-city displacement, with people moving away from townships to the suburbs or to industrial areas.
A lot of Somali traders in the townships were keeping stock at very low levels, or not restocking, because of fears of looting.
Western Cape police spokesperson Colonel Billy Jones said there was “no policing” involved because the xenophobia fears were currently based only on rumours.
However provincial commission Mzwandile Petros had reconvened the safety forum, and had requested civil society organisations to help calm people’s fears.