In spite of widespread outrage over Operation Fiela, which has led to the arrests of more than 1 600 foreign nationals, the ANC’s national executive committee has come out in full support of the crackdown on crime in areas experiencing xenophobic violence, saying its core purpose was to protect the state.
After the NEC’s one-day meeting on Sunday, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told journalists in a tense news briefing that, rather than seeking to discredit the operation, the committee saw Fiela as “contributing to our efforts to regularise and document all people in South Africa”.
This is despite several civil society organisations accusing the operation of targeting foreign nationals and calling for a rethink of Operation Fiela.
Since April 28, police – backed up by the army – have conducted several raids of hostels, informal settlements and, controversially, the South African Methodist church that serves as a haven for foreign migrants.
A coalition of NGOs against xenophobia said last week that they believed that, instead of dealing with crime and social problems, the government was “harassing and arresting on a mass scale” and unfairly equating crime with the presence of undocumented people in South African society.
But Mantashe insisted Operation Fiela should be seen as an attempt to rid the country of criminal elements.
“The security cluster has a responsibility of security of society and the country,” he said. “And when, in the analysis of the security cluster, police must be backed up by the SANDF, we should allow that decision to be taken in the operations.”
Jeff Radebe, who heads the Cabinet committee responsible for the operation, has said there is no mission to single out foreign nationals. “As the interministerial committee we would like to reiterate that this operation is not targeting law-abiding citizens or law-abiding foreign nationals.”
Out of the 3 914 arrests, 1 650 undocumented migrants were arrested.
Radebe said some of the “successes” of the operation included the nabbing of two Ethiopian nationals for alleged human trafficking in Mankweng in Limpopo.
“A Zimbabwean man was arrested at Beit Bridge Border Post in possession of explosives to the value of R100 000.00,” Radebe said.
In his address to the media, Mantashe said the ANC noted the threat posed by allowing free movement in society.
“We have a duty to make our country safer for everybody. That is part of human rights,” he said.
The NEC did not discuss other serious matters affecting the country.
Mantashe said the president did not take the NEC into his confidence about the Marikana report. Issues such as the problems plaguing the National Prosecuting Authority were not on the table.
The troubles facing power utility Eskom were not discussed.
“The NEC does not discuss operations of the state. This is not how we work,” Mantashe said.
At the same time, Mantashe announced that national officials of the ANC would be visiting the Nelson Mandela Bay and Ethekwini regions this week but would not say what the problems that underpinned the need for intervention were.
Both regions of the ANC face massive divisions: the ANC has admitted, in its own internal analysis, that it might lose the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in next year’s local government elections if no decisive action is taken.
Earlier in the briefing, Mantashe launched a personal attack on Daily Maverick journalist Ranjeni Munusamy at a media briefing on Sunday, after a follow-up question about the release of the Marikana report, calling her “ill-disciplined” before threatening to block all “hostile” journalists.
Munusamy addressed the matter in her piece for the Daily Maverick, saying the ANC secretary general had “completely contradicted statements he himself made previously regarding the ANC’s relationship with the state”.