To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
14 May 2015 14:10
A raid on the Madala hostel in Alexandra. (Gustav Butlex, M&G)
The raids across the country in the past
three weeks under Operation Fiela-Reclaim are set to continue as long as they are required, Cabinet decided this week.
Acting Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams, speaking
to the media on Thursday following a Cabinet meeting the day before, said the
operation, which has resulted in the arrest of more than 800 undocumented
migrants, was not specifically targeted at foreigners.
“Operation Fiela is targeted in certain areas, which
were areas pointed out to government by the communities as drug infested. These
areas that the operation focuses on might have a lot of foreign nationals but
there are also South Africans who are living in those areas.
The arrests that
have been made are not necessarily foreigners; they are South Africans who were
found with illegal weapons and drugs.
“As a country that prides itself with having the best
and most liberal Constitution in the world, we have taken a centre stage on
human rights issues, [and] as such we cannot authorise an operation that will
violate the human rights of any individuals or groups.”
The operation was launched after xenophobic
violence swept through KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last month.
Williams said while it was understood that the South
African National Defence would support the operation until June, it would not stop
then and would continue as long as it was required.
“There is no plan to stop in the event there is a need
to continue with the raids that we are currently doing.
Williams said the mandate of the inter-ministerial
committee on migration set up to deal with xenophobic attacks would not also end in June.
“We want to tackle a number of underlying issues, for
instance, around immigration, [and] licencing that is being identified as one
of the causes of the problems. There are quite a number of issues that they are
still looking at,” said Williams.
Williams was standing in
in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, who is ill.
The Eskom crisis and the Burundi coup were not
discussed in the meeting. However, Cabinet approved the hosting of the
25th International Railway Safety Council Meeting and agreed that
the African Maritime Transport Charter be submitted to Parliament for
‘Sweep the dirt’
Civil society organisations have condemned the raids
as institutionalised xenophobia and called on the government to
stop the arrests.
“We are calling on
government to immediately fully end Operation Fiela, and similar activities,
which only serve to make foreign migrants more insecure in South Africa, and go
against previous promises of government, in the face of xenophobic violence, to
build social cohesion, said a statement from Sonke Gender Justice, Lawyers for
Human Rights, the Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Grassroot Soccer South
The statement said while Operation Fiela, which means “sweep the dirt”, was ostensibly to address crime, it had instead focused primarily on foreign nationals.
“The arrests of hundreds of men and women through Operation Fiela have
reportedly resulted in the loss or confiscation of property of foreign
nationals, including the documentation that many migrants and refugees are
holding to show that they are legally in South Africa. Families are being torn
apart, as men and women are often separated from each other and their children;
adults are being sent to the Johannesburg Central Police Station while children
are taken, sometimes without their parents, to refugee camps,” said the
They said the reality was
that Operation Fiela was only deepening the stigmatisation of foreign nationals
in South Africa, especially those from other African countries, and made it
difficult for all foreign migrants to integrate into South African society,
especially those who had been arrested in these raids.
“We demand that instead of continuing with these violent and human
rights infringing raids and arrests, the government should focus its efforts on
providing quality education, creating jobs and getting people out of poverty.
Current state-led raids which disproportionately target African foreign
nationals and paint them as criminals, are simply an attempt to divert
attention from the ongoing socio-economic problems that have not been caused by
immigrants, and will certainly continue whether or not foreign migrants live in
Read more from Thulani Gqirana
Create Account | Lost Your Password?