Rampant criminal activity, sporadic attacks, a complex picture and a political problem.
Those are the words the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster are using to describe the spate of violence against foreigners spreading through KwaZulu-Natal, which has left five dead and more than 2 000 foreign nationals displaced.
Shying away from labelling the violence against foreigners xenophobic, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko said he found it hard to view the attacks as just xenophobia.
“We all need to agree that it is a complex picture that is emerging. Some of us find it difficult to think that this is just xenophobic, I think it represents a particular political problem to some extent because you don’t see Australians or Britons being chased on the streets and similar demands being placed on them to leave the country. What you are seeing are largely Africans against one another, that’s why I’m saying it represents a political problem that we as South Africans need to deal with.
“In a sense, what we are witnessing are afrophobic kinds of activities and attacks, resembling elements of self-hate among Africans. The evidence shows the attacks are mainly against the Congolese, Zimbabweans, Malawians, Somalis and some South African nationals as well.”
Nhleko said the attacks were also part of an ideological problem that needed to be tackled and that required society to work together to fight it.
“What is also true is that there are also a number of things being taken advantage of here. The criminal element is one of those, when people storm into a shop and loot it, that’s purely criminal activity but they are then using this [the attacks] as a cover of what people think of as their demand. These activities need to stop.”
Addressing journalists at a press conference in Parliament, Nhleko said they would continue to assess the situation, and said it was not yet necessary to bring in the army.
“The situation has not come to that point, to necessitate army deployment. Government agencies have handled the situation relatively well . . . . The situation is under control at this stage.”
A number of foreign shop owners and their families have been displaced since the violence started last week, with 275 being provided shelter in Isipingo and between 800 to 1000 in Chatsworth.
State Security Minister David Mahlobo said the attacks started as an industrial dispute that could have been contained to the one shop.
“And it flared up. Our intelligence services have early warning systems in place, but the most important thing is our ability to respond timeously. They are doing their best, but it does not mean we don’t have areas where we can improve.”
Cluster chairperson Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula condemned the attacks and said additional law enforcement officers had been mobilised from around the country and deployed to the affected areas to enforce the law and prevent further attacks.
“As South Africans, we should refuse to be part of the attacks on innocent people, merely because they happen to be foreigners. Those who are in the country illegally should be reported to the police and they will be returned to their countries of origin in a lawful manner.
“Whilst government is going to be taking resolute action against South Africans who attack foreign nationals, we are equally determined to take action against all foreign nationals who commit crime in our country.”
The security cluster also condemned the recent defacing, damaging and destruction of different statues across the country as well as the illegal land invasions, with the most recent ones in Khayelitsha Cape Town.
“These actions of vandalism are contrary to the principles of the Constitution and the also constitute a criminal act. Government is aware of the sentiments in the country relating to our racist and colonial past. We do understand the frustration from sections of our society who may feel the programme of building new heritage architecture is moving slowly.
“No person has a right to allow, encourage, motivate, organise and/or instigate the occupation of land of whatever nature,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.