Govt calls in troops to quell xenophobic violence

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announces on Tuesday in Alexandra that the army will be deployed to deal with xenophobic violence. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announces on Tuesday in Alexandra that the army will be deployed to deal with xenophobic violence. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The South African government has now called on the South African National Defence Force to “reinforce the work of police”, “exert the authority of the state” and “reclaim the streets” in areas where xenophobic violence has been reported. Government’s security cluster announced that troops have been deployed in Alexandra township—north of Johannesburg—and in some areas of Kwa-Zulu Natal as police struggle to control the spate of violence related to attacks on foreign nationals. The attacks have so far claimed seven lives.
Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula also warned those involved in xenophobic violence and attacks on the police that they were “doomed”. 

Mozambique national Emmanuel Sithole was stabbed to death in Alexandra on Saturday. The following day, the Sunday Times published photographs of the attacks. On Monday, four people were arrested for Sithole’s murder. Calm appeared to return to the township, but later on Sunday evening a Zimbabwean couple were attacked in their home. The unnamed woman was shot in the neck and leg and her spouse was shot in the neck.

As commander in chief of the armed forces, President Jacob Zuma, then agreed—after a request by the police—for the army to be deployed. “We are now reclaiming the authority of the state of the Republic of South Africa,” said a stern Mapisa-Nqakula outside the Alexandra police station on Tuesday. She would not say how many troops would be deployed to the volatile areas. “You will not get information, the boots, the commands, the what what, the time. It is operational and we never make operations public,” Mapisa-Nqakula said, emphasising that it was “the right time to bring in the army”.  

The army’s first mandate, Mapisa-Nqakula said, would be to support the police in restoring peace and order. “Even the deployment and planning will be done under the guidance of the police,” she said. The security cluster insisted that the intervention of the SANDF was not an indictment of the police. David Mahlobo, acting minister of police and state security minister, said that the rules between the police and the army have been clarified. “This is not the first time we have worked together,” he said. 

Besides reinforcing the police, the army is expected to assist with medical help in camps which have been set up for displaced foreigners. It remains unclear how long the army would be present in xenophobic hotspots. Mapisa-Nqakula said Zuma would inform Parliament of the deployment within the next week. According to clause three of section 201 of the Constitution, the president must inform Parliament of the details of a SANDF deployment within seven days.

Mapisa-Nqakula said there may be an exterior force causing instability in the country. “Once the nation is divided then obviously it’s easy for everyone to come in and cause confusion. Never allow that confusion. South Africans, let us not be gullible and vulnerable to people who have they own agendas of destroying the state and the government of the republic of SA—by people who want to create permanent instability in the country, who do not want peace.”

Military analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman welcomed the deployment of the defence force—which would not have any ties to the community—and would work for a “short while to calm things down”.

Heitman said that while the army could stabilise the situation it could not solve the problem. “Once things calm down, the issues must be solved on a political level.”

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