Mayor: Attacks against foreigners sparked by desperation

2015-06-18 07:37
A Somali shopowner gets ready to leave his general dealer following looting and violence in Durban. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

A Somali shopowner gets ready to leave his general dealer following looting and violence in Durban. (Jeff Wicks, News24)

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Germiston - South Africans are not xenophobic towards foreign nationals, they are just frustrated by having to compete for access to resources, Ekurhuleni Mayor Mondli Gungubele says.

"I am not sure whether South Africans are xenophobic or not," he told News24.

"In all these areas where foreigners are being beaten there are these factors at play, generally it is poor people in that area, [who are] unemployed with no formal housing most of the time, but finding themselves in an area or a province which has got a high level of opportunities."

In April a large number of foreign nationals were moved to a camp in Primrose, Germiston after being attacked by locals during a period where foreigners were being targeted in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Xenophobic violence

The wave of violent action began in KwaZulu-Natal and eventually spread to parts of Gauteng including Alexandra township, Jeppestown and Makause informal settlement in Primrose.

Five people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed when the unrest broke out.

The SA National Defence Force was brought in to help the police calm the situation. A number of raids were conducted, mostly in hostels in both provinces. Dozens of weapons, drugs and stolen goods were recovered and a number of people were arrested.

The situation has since calmed down. Some foreigners have chosen to return to their countries of origin, while others have decided to stay and forge a life in SA.  

Gungubele said these actions were sparked by the desperation and frustrations of the country's poorest.

"It seems to me to be more about issues of unemployment, poverty, inequality [and] desperation for access to the economy then naturally when things are tough, the lesser my relationship with you the more of an enemy you become," he explained.

In areas such as Sandton and Bedfordview where people were well-off, there were fewer conflicts between foreigners and locals because there was more access to resources, job opportunities and the economy for everyone.

"...So a foreigner who comes there and buys his own house, he buys it next to a South African who has also got his own house."

Holding foreigners accountable

He said the government needed to work harder to address the issue of processing and documenting foreign nationals who were in the country. This would assist in holding them accountable, as visitors.

"The manner in which we administer the presence of foreigners in our country, with the resource scarcity in mind, is not clear."

This created a lot of uncertainty among locals, he said.

"You find yourself with a thousand foreigners here, you don't know in who's records are they, if one of them kill you, you don't know how to trace [them]."

A better system needed to be put in place to protect both South Africans as well as foreign nationals who were in the country for legitimate reasons.

"Our brothers and sisters are vulnerable and exposed also because as government there's a lot that we need to do so that the legitimacy of their presence in South Africa is not questioned.

"Foreigners who are here because they are escaping oppression must be protected, foreigners who are pursuing economic opportunities - this is their continent [as well]."

Gungubele said South Africa needed other African countries as much as they needed it.

"South Africa without the broader continent will not exist. The future of this country to prosper economically lies in the relationship we are going to have with other African countries.

"Our people must be convinced that everyone who is in our country is accountable."

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  xenophobia  |  service delivery

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