Government moves to quell xenophobic tensions

2015-04-19 21:04
(Giordano Stolley, News24)

(Giordano Stolley, News24)

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Durban - Fears that xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng could spiral out of control and have an adverse impact on the country saw the government pull out the stops in a bid to quell tensions.

President Jacob Zuma cancelled a trip to Indonesia and visited refugee camps in Durban on Saturday. Police Minister Nathi Nhleko on Sunday launched an anti-xenophobia campaign while the country’s home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, insisted on Sunday that the government’s efforts to reign in xenophobia were bearing fruit.

However, despite his claims the country woke on Sunday to images of yet another fatal attack on a foreigner.

The front page of the Sunday Times carried images of the deadly attack on Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole in Alexandra, prompting the police to offer a R100 000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest of his killers.

Political parties demanded everything must be done to bring Sithole’s killers to justice.

'Too late. We go home'

Zuma, who had been scheduled to leave for Indonesia on Saturday, instead arrived in Durban and did a whirlwind tour of two refugee camps.

He was cheered when he told the hundreds of refugees encamped on a sports field in the Westcliff area of Durban’s Chatsworth suburb that the government would help them to address their concerns, whether it was to stay in the country or to return home.

 “We are not saying to you go away as government. It is yourselves who are saying that you need to be helped to go home,” he told them.

When he arrived, a large crowd quickly gathered and started chanting: “Too late. We go home.”

Several people held signs up as Zuma spoke. One read: “We better go home. Thank U King and Zuma’s Son”, while another read: “We have to go home. Malawi is peace and harmony.” Another read: “We are South Africans Enemies.”

Later on Saturday night, in a statement, he urged the country’s religious leaders to pray for peace.

Instilling fear

In Pretoria, Gigaba, apart from insisting that the country was getting a handle on the violence, also insisted that those involved in xenophobic attacks would be dealt with firmly.

“We want to issue a stern warning to those who lend themselves to acts of public violence. We will find you and you will be dealt with to the full might of the law,” he said.

Gigaba said 307 people have so far been arrested for related acts since the attacks broke out over a week ago and they would face prosecution.

Gigaba said there were "elements" who were taking advantage of the violence to plunge the country into anarchy.

“Over the past few days we have noticed a new phenomenon where people make use of social media to instil fear in different parts of the country,” Gigaba said.

“They have been sending out fictitious SMS and WhatsApp messages with fictitious and photoshopped images warning people of imminent attacks.”

He said these messages appeared to be orchestrated by elements “bent on taking advantage of unease in the communities and instil fear among the people”.

Gigaba sought to ensure the international community that South Africa was doing everything possible to stem the violence.

“To the countries that continue to invest in South Africa, we want to reassure them that South Africa is a constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law,” Gigaba said.

Translation problem

In Durban Police Minister Nhleko on Sunday launched the "We Are One Humanity" campaign in a bid to stop the recent wave of violent xenophobic attacks. 

He also defended King Goodwill Zwelithini saying that the Zulu monarch had in fact been urging the government to deport illegal immigrants and had not been inciting xenophobia.

Zwelithini’s problems had arisen over the fact that according to Nhleko that there was no proper Zulu equivalent for the word deportation.

“What is deportation in isiZulu? Mabahambe [They must go]. Mababuyele ekhaya lababantu [These people must go back home]. That’s what you say [in Zulu]. If you are illegal in the country, you shouldn’t be here. Government follows policy and law and that policy is deportation. I think those were the issues the king was raising in his speech.”

Zwelithini has been in the spotlight over comments he made in Pongola at the end of last month when he allegedly said that foreigners should pack their bags and go home.

The comments were reported to have been behind a number of attacks on foreigners at Durban’s informal settlements. Many were chased out and had their belongings looted.

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said that there had been no major incidents reported over the weekend and that the death toll of six people killed in the province in connection with xenophobia had remained unchanged over the weekend.

Nhleko said at his briefing in Durban that nationally the death toll stood at seven, but it was not immediately clear whether he was counting Emmanuel Sithole or another death.

Earlier police in Gauteng had said they were still trying to determine whether Sithole’s death was xenophobic or related to a dispute with a customer.

Come Monday, Zwelithini is to meet with traditional leaders at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium in a bid to quell xenophobic tensions.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  goodwill zwelithini  |  malusi gigaba  |  johannesburg  |  durban  |  xenophobia
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