SA seeks to harness Cup to ease xenophobia

As South Africans savoured the final days of the World Cup, the government on Thursday hammered out plans to use the tournament’s good spirits to stamp out simmering anti-immigrant sentiments.

The nation has rallied around fellow African teams in the tournament and celebrated with foreign fans, but government is concerned at fears among poor immigrant communities of xenophobic violence.

Anti-foreigner attacks left 62 people dead across South Africa in May 2008, and community groups say tensions have risen again.

The police ministry, the African National Congress, and even the Nelson Mandela Foundation have all made forceful statements against xenophobia.

Government later on Thursday was set to lay out plans to ease anti-foreigner sentiments, after the World Cup inspired a more inclusive spirit in the country.

“We will not tolerate any threat or act of violence against any individual or sector of society, no matter what reasons are given to justify such threats or actions,” said police minister Nathi Mthethwa.

‘Faceless criminals’
“Government is closely monitoring these xenophobic threats by faceless criminals whose desire is to create anarchy,” he said. “We want to assure society that our police are on the ground to thwart these evil acts.”

No incidents have been reported, but community groups say they want to mitigate the tensions, which researchers say stem from competition for political posts and business opportunities.

“We can’t simply ignore these threats as just rumours and yet we cannot give them too much credit,” said Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, an advocate at human rights group Black Sash.

“We are meeting with communities trying to verify the authenticity of the allegations and put prevention measures in place,” he said.

President Jacob Zuma has repeatedly praised South Africans for uniting behind the World Cup, as fans of all races have celebrated together in stadiums.

But this week outside Cape Town, dozens of Zimbabweans were seen along a highway trying to hitch-hike to Johannesburg and then catch a bus home, saying they feared attacks.

Common support
The Mandela Foundation urged South Africans to keep up the inclusive spirit that has marked the World Cup.

“We have seen South Africans unite around a common support for African teams during the 2010 Fifa World Cup,” it said.

“We hope that this will lead to greater appreciation by South Africans of our place on this continent and that we will show greater solidarity with non-nationals,” it added.

Only two matches are left in the World Cup, with Saturday’s competition for the third place spot in Port Elizabeth and Sunday’s final in Johannesburg between The Netherlands and Spain.

Flight chaos
Aviation authorities were embarrassed on Friday after a logjam in landing bays caused delays for 700 fans trying to see Spain’s 1-0 victory over Germany.

The delays for five planes caused some fans to miss the game, said Bongani Maseko, operations director at Durban’s airport.

Other fans were late for the match, but given special buses to bring them to the stadium.

Airports Company South Africa blamed VIP private jets for congestion. Five commercial flights had to turn back to Johannesburg and Cape Town, due to landing space problems at the airport.

“The congestion problem was caused by some private airplanes [which] refused move ... after landing, therefore blocking landing space for other planes,” airports chief Monhla Hlahla told 702 radio.

“Priority had to be given to VIPs who were caught up in the situation,” she said, adding that Fifa planes were allowed to land before commercial flights.

“We had too many flights wanting to land and at some point we had to instruct them to turn back,” she said.

She said the experience would be used to prevent similar delays in Johannesburg for the final on Sunday. - AFP

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