Herman Mashaba defends his comments stating “illegal” immigrants are criminals

Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has reiterated and defended his statements that foreign nationals who are in Johannesburg without documentation are linked to criminal activity in the city. His renewed comments come after he was heavily criticised for making similar utterances at his 100 days in office speech last week, where he was denounced for being xenophobic.

Mashaba called into Radio 702 on Wednesday morning where he told talk show host Stephen Grootes that people who are in Johannesburg “illegally” must respect the law, otherwise “we’re going to have a challenge”.

“I stand by what I said that people who are in our city illegally – whether you are South African or you’re someone from outside – please, when you’re in our city, please respect our laws because if not, then we’re going to have a challenge,” he said.

Mashaba then blamed the government for crime in Johannesburg, saying that they had been ineffective in implementing law and order. The mayor has not yet produced evidence or data that supports his claim of foreign nationals being linked to criminal activity.

“Unfortunately, I’m handicapped by national government failing us in ensuring that we have law and order. Our law enforcement agencies on a daily basis deal with cases of our students being robbed, people running back into these buildings where the police are unable to go when they find people they find them with no papers whatsoever,” Mashaba said

“So, it’s a bigger problem that all of us as South Africans, if we not prepared to face it, we want to be nice people or parade in a country where there’s no rule of law, then we must accept the consequences.”

Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba said on Monday that he would meet with Mashaba to explain government policy and management of international migration. Gigaba warned that public officials should refrain from making comments that incite the public “to adopt xenophobic attitudes”.

READ MORE: Our nation’s ugly moment of xenophobia is almost incomprehensible

“All of us have the responsibility to act in a manner that does not incite any hatred towards other fellow human beings irrespective of where they come from. I will seek a meeting with the Mayor precisely to brief him on a number of interventions that government has implemented in this regard,” said Gigaba.

A “lawless society” of people who live in abandoned buildings

A caller had earlier told Grootes that sewage was running into his factory from a hijacked building. Mashaba then responded by calling into 702, saying that Johannesburg is a “lawless society”. He commended the factory for employing “our people ” but said it was unfortunate that the city [Johannesburg] is required to provide accommodation within a 5km radius to people living in abandoned buildings.

“Unfortunately, we are demanded, for us to be able to move those people out, we’ve got to find them accommodation a 5km radius from where currently have found them,” Mashaba said.

“You look at a factory that is employing our people, paying taxes to our city, now us as a city we are unable to help them because it’s not just this factory alone, it’s a much bigger problem.”

Mashaba made similar comments at his 100 days in office speech, where he accused human rights lawyers who acted on behalf of evicted residents of worsening conditions. 

READ MORE: #Mashaba100Days: 5 changes Mayor Herman Mashaba has planned for Johannesburg

While he spoke at his 100 days in office event, he said that foreign nationals are involved in criminal activity in Johannesburg, because they arrived in the city illegally. Mashaba went on to say that the city would clamp down on illegal activity and those believed to be participating in crime.

Mashaba has been criticised for his comments as a result of prevalent xenophobia in South African communities, which has led to widespread violence against foreign nationals, particularly in South African townships.

Mashaba’s spokesperson, Tony Taverna-Turisan, has said that the mayor will continue to speak out about foreign nationals.

“Mayor Mashaba’s comments were in no way xenophobic and he has on numerous occasions stated that he welcomes foreign nationals into our city and country. Foreign nationals buy goods in our country, create businesses and stimulate economic growth,” Taverna-Turisan told News24

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
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