State’s plan to fight xenophobic attacks

2015-04-26 16:00

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Government has a new plan to deal with xenophobia. It is a mix of tough action against foreigners in the country illegally, but includes efforts to reintegrate displaced foreigners while attempting to deal with South Africa’s culture of impunity for those committing violence.

Government will reregister all foreign nationals displaced by the violence and who are now in camps. Those here illegally will be repatriated with the help of their government agencies. The home affairs department will also start to trace and monitor foreign nationals. There are likely to be daily troop deployments in hot spots and a massive deployment of intelligence agents will try to develop an early warning system against xenophobia.

City Press has obtained a copy of the most recent national joint operational and intelligence structure (Natjoints) report. It includes a 27-point programme to address xenophobia and immigration issues. It includes dedicated courts and prosecutors to deal with xenophobia and immigration and improve South Africa’s poor record of not punishing violence against foreigners.

Trading laws will be enforced, as will health and safety regulations, because migrants in South Africa are often entrepreneurial and run small businesses.

The plan has long-term aspects, including education against xenophobia and revitalising township economies.

Entering and leaving South Africa will now happen through the biometric data capture of all people.

Speaking to City Press, Ivorian-born chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum Marc Gbaffou said he was pleased with government’s response to the recent spate of attacks.

“We thank the government for all the effort it has put in. I think it has taken steps instead of wasting time. We appreciate that it has come out in full force to say the violence must stop.”

After the 2008 xenophobic attacks, government promised a wide-ranging set of measures. An assessment by City Press found these had largely failed.

They include action to end impunity by ensuring prosecutions, an early warning system, effective reintegration of displaced communities and the ongoing monitoring of antiforeigner hot spots.

The new plan is shorter and tougher than the 2009 response because it is more enforcement- than rights-based.

To deal with displaced foreign nationals, government will ensure they have food, shelter and infrastructure and are reintegrated into community life.

“There were those who were concerned that xenophobic attacks might happen again after 2008. We were seen to be prophets of doom, but it has been revealed now that no effective preventive measures were taken by government,” said Gbaffou.

Loren Landau, from the Wits African Centre for Migration and Society, agrees.

“We needed to see a broad response. These included investigations into those behind the attacks, not just those on the front lines. Without this, local economic and political leadership has entrenched its power, based on violence, and created incentives for it to continue.”

He added that, although he did not see home affairs as directly complicit, it had been “lending fuel to the fire that people are undocumented and illegal by making it all but impossible for people to get documents. This is not an immigration issue. It’s an issue of policing and governance. To that end, the police have not done enough.”

Landau agreed that the army’s deployment was necessary because “the police are unable or unwilling to halt the attacks” although strong-handed tactics might alienate local residents and increase hostility in an already volatile environment.

The real test for government would come in the next few months after the hype had died down and tensions had eased.

Gbaffou added: “If, after the violence, nothing more happens in terms of educating people and changing their perceptions about what migration is and who migrants are, then you will still be living with this evil and the possibility of another outbreak.

“We need to eradicate it, to root it out of our society. To achieve this, we need to embark on a very large education campaign.”

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