Attacks on foreigners not xenophobia - committee

2015-07-10 17:00
An EFF member holding up a poster against xenophobia walks through Alexandra. (Thomas Hartleb, News24)

An EFF member holding up a poster against xenophobia walks through Alexandra. (Thomas Hartleb, News24)

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Johannesburg - The attacks on foreign nationals earlier this year were not due to xenophobia, the co-chair of Parliament's portfolio committee on the attacks said on Friday.

"We as a committee have come to a determination that these attacks cannot be characterised as xenophobic," committee co-chair Tekoetsile Motlashuping said at the Moroka police station in Soweto.

They had discussed the issue at length, and looked up the meaning of xenophobia in a dictionary.

"The dictionary says it is 'extreme' hatred against foreigners. South Africans do not have extreme hatred,'' he said, adding that anybody who characterised the violence against foreigners earlier this year as xenophobic, was wrong.

"We are from exile," he said of some of the MPs from the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, who were on a fact-finding trip.

Foreign nationals came to South Africa for many reasons, including economic, academic, political problems at home, and because of South Africa's political stability.

He said some believed they came because there were "lots of grants".

"South Africa is working hard to the extent that foreigners are attracted [to the country]."

'They go to townships to occupy the economic space'

Many planned to go back to their countries of origin when, for example, the political situation had stabilised there, and they would take South Africa's democratic principles with them.

He said lawlessness would not be allowed and anybody in the country illegally would be arrested and deported with "no mercy".

"They roam, they go to townships to occupy the economic space. We never invaded economic space in exile."

People coming into South Africa illegally made it difficult for the country to plan and so resources would not be able to be used equally.

Soweto was designed to keep different language groups in separate areas, which created a sense of ethnicity.

"We don't want to look at what happened. What has happened has happened. But we want to look at the root causes. We need to be able to plan and be combat ready."

Presentations were made to the committee by high-ranking police officers on events leading up to, and in the aftermath, of attacks on businesses owned by foreign nationals in suburbs to the west of Johannesburg in January. These were intended to to give the committee an idea of the complexity of the issue, and its causes.

The officers said the attacks were not on foreign nationals themselves, but on their businesses. If the owner resisted a looting or robbery, they were assaulted, but then the robbers ran away with the goods.

Police had found it difficult to find the shop owners. An attempt at building a data base, or inviting foreign nationals to Community Policing Forum meetings revealed that the person they had spoken to at a shop a few days earlier, had disappeared and been replaced by a new shopkeeper.

Shops next to 'hot spots'

It appeared that shopkeepers rotated their presence at the shops, so it was difficult to find them.

The committee heard that South Africans trying to make extra money to feed their families would rent space on their properties to the shopkeepers. The shops were sometimes next to a "hot spot", such as a house where nyaope was sold and smoked, and robbers broke through the hot spot to rob the shop.

Some slept on mealie meal bags.

Krugersdorp cluster commander Anna Mateisi presented details of attacks on January 22 in Tshepisong and Swaneville to illustrate the patterns of the attacks.

On that day, around 14:00 in Tshepisong West, a group of men tried to rob the Thanda Bantu supermarket. Shopkeeper Somalian Hoossain Ali Hassan retaliated by shooting randomly, hitting Nhlanhla Molefe, 20.

"After this people started looting," she said. Hassan was arrested and found in possession of an unlicensed firearm.

On January 23 2015, a Pakistani shop owner in Swaneville, was the target of looting. Hendrik Manye, 61, was shot dead. The suspects are still at large.

In Rietvallei extension 2, people started looting and Zanele Majozi, 19, fell. She was trampled while fleeing and the baby on her back died. About 80 shops in Kagiso were looted.

Rent space 'from an old lady'

Police in the area held meetings with community policing forums, residents had a march and they tried to control the situation.

Dobsonville acting cluster commander Brigadier Mark Joseph explained the placing and structure of the foreign-owned shops in the area.

None of the areas where they had their business were zoned for this. The quality of building was so bad that robbers could break through the walls.

They usually rent space "from an old lady'" as renting shop space yields more money than a backyard room. And then, the business is run "by an uncle that you never see", Joseph said.

The "uncle" had a tax certificate, but it was registered in somebody else's name.

Goverment agencies such as home affairs and the SA National Defence Force discuss xenophobia weekly. They found that the number of shops stayed the same, but the the names of the owners changed.

Another policeman expressed concern about the quality of goods sometimes sold in the shops. There were concerns that the food products could cause illnesses. The committee then moved to another meeting.

Read more on:    cape town  |  johannesburg  |  parliament 2015  |  xenophobia

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