Gauteng housing minister dismisses xenophobia fears

Gauteng housing minister Humphrey Mmemezi has dismissed claims of brewing xenophobic violence in Alexandra on Friday.

Earlier this week foreign residents of the township north of Johannesburg were intimidated by the Alexandra Bonafides (AB)—a resident’s group accusing foreigners of taking part in corrupt practices to secure Reconstruction Development Programme (RDP) housing.

AB distributed pamphlets across Alexandra ordering foreigners living in RDP houses to evacuate the homes within seven days.

Some pamphlets read: “You are violating our rights to own our RDP houses” and “We demand that you vacate at your own free will without being pushed like animals or aliens”.

After a meeting held in Wynberg between the AB, other Alexandra resident associations and the Gauteng department of housing, Mmemezi claimed there was no real threat to foreigners and that matters have been incorrectly represented in the press.

“The media has blown this out of proportion and distorted the facts. A lot of the people they spoke to were not even foreigners.
The media must be remember how to report on these things,” Mmemezi said.

HE said that although some tensions exist between local and foreign members of the Alexandra community, they are well managed and police are monitoring the situation for any possibility of xenophobia.

AB plans to hold a march on Saturday,where it was reported by EyeWitness News that foreigners will be forcibly evicted if they are found to be in RDP houses.

Mmemezi was dismissive of the AB’s sway in the Alexandra community, noting they “had no real authority” and said their planned march had not been sanctioned by his office or the police.

“The police have not given permission and I have not given permission—we don’t want anarchy in our communities so we won’t give permission,” he said.

March to proceed
However, the AB had acquired permission for the gathering via the courts—obtaining an interdict from the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court.

“The meeting will be held—we cannot cancel it at this point. We invite the MEC and he can come and see if it is only fifteen or so people. Maybe then he will realise that we’re the people that are putting housing issues in Alexandra to the top of the agenda,” said AB founder Duma Kulashe.

Responding to claims that Gauteng housing officials were involved in corrupt deals relating to the granting of RDP housing to foreigners, Mmemezi said this only accounts for “1% to 5% of the problem”.

“It is not the case of our officials selling houses to foreigners—its South African residents selling their own RDP houses to foreigners. How can you ask the government for a house because you are poor and then sell it?” Mmemezi said.

Mmemezi offered assurances that if his department find proof of corruption in any form it will be dealt with swiftly.

“There is no evidence against the allegations of widespread corruption up until now, but based on information we’ve received we have already suspended and dismissed people where necessary,” he said.

‘Go home’
Despite assurances by Mmemezi that foreigners would not become targets of xenophobic violence, Alexandra residents gathered at the meeting had other ideas.
Margaret Damaneit, an Alexandra resident since 1944 and who has been on the RDP housing waiting list since 1996, told the Mail & Guardian that she supports the AB’s calls for foreigners to be removed.

“I am proud of what the Alex Bonafides have done—they are taking the truth to the people. These foreigners must realise how lucky they are. If I want to go to Zimbabwe, [President Robert] Mugabe will chase me away. The foreigners must go home because this is our country and the MEC won’t change our minds.”

Another AB supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, said Saturday’s meeting might become confrontational as “the people are tired”.

“The youth of Alexandra are very involved in the organisation of this meeting so there is no telling what might happen and what they might do. I will be there and we will take our message to every door of an RDP house,” the source said.

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend. Read more from Nickolaus Bauer

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