Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa continued to insist on Friday that this week’s violence in the Western Cape was “so-called” rather than actual xenophobia.
Speaking after a meeting with Western Cape premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Dan Plato, he also again cautioned the media over its reporting on the issue.
“Some of the reports, you feel it’s by people who wish that those things happen,” he told journalists at Parliament.
The Western Cape was hit by an outbreak of violence this week as residents of townships in Cape Town and some surrounding towns looted and burned shops belonging to foreigners.
Mthethwa has repeatedly claimed the violence is actually criminality disguised as xenophobia.
However, non-government organisations have charged that officials seem to be avoiding use of the word xenophobia in the hope that the violence will subside.
And on Friday, as he was meeting with Zille, the United Democratic Movement said Mthethwa himself appeared to be wrestling with semantics.
“Minister Mthethwa’s contribution to the public debate comes over as brusque, patronising and myopic,” said the party’s deputy president, Ntopile Kganyago.
Mthethwa told Friday’s briefing that the inter-ministerial committee on xenophobia last week decided to meet representatives of provincial and local government, and the media.
“What is important is a call to work together in fighting any possible outbreak of the so-called xenophobia,” he said.
“We have to be a united front against any criminal behaviour, because this, by and large, has manifested itself as criminal activities, opportunistically so.”
He said the media might be fuelling “self-fulfilling prophecies” through its reporting on the issue.
“How do we report in a responsible way without actually fuelling a mob mentality kind of a situation?” he asked.
There had been a “pattern” in reporting, particularly by foreign media.
“We can not look the other way and say because it’s the fourth estate we may not get favour and so on… we have been following those things.”
Zille told the briefing she agreed fully that the challenge of xenophobia and all the tragedies that resulted from it had to be prevented, and that “we must do that together”.
“We agreed [at Friday’s meeting] that xenophobia is real, that it’s a real phenomenon that we have to deal with, that has opportunistic consequences as well,” she said.
“I don’t think that we can dismiss xenophobia as purely the work of criminal elements.”
She said the plan developed by all three tiers of government after the 2008 xenophobic violence was working, and there had been “extraordinary” co-operation from the South African Police Service.
It involved identifying flashpoints, working closely with the police to ensure those points did not turn violent, and sending in teams of mediators.
Currently there were 20 teams on the ground, most of them in the Cape Town metropole.
“I believe the rollout of that plan has been primarily responsible for preventing the threats materialising to any significant extent,” she said.
She had suggested to Mthethwa that the special soccer world cup courts be kept going to deal with xenophobic incidents swiftly and publicly.
Zille said she and the two ministers — State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele also attended — had agreed that the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees should be approached to ensure that the world body addressed the root causes of the problem.
Among these causes was the fact that neighbouring Zimbabwe was a failed state, with a quarter of its population seeking work elsewhere.
“They [the UN] just haven’t applied themselves to how they deal with it,” she said. –Sapa