Parly committee complains about media reports on xenophobia

2015-07-11 13:17
Protesters outside the Alexandra Magistrate's Court. (Naledi Shange, News24)

Protesters outside the Alexandra Magistrate's Court. (Naledi Shange, News24)

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Johannesburg - The media was criticised by Parliament's committee investigating the causes of xenophobia, for its ''negative'' reporting during a briefing at Alexandra police station on Saturday morning.

Proceedings were temporarily derailed with co-chair of the committee Tekoetsile Motlashuping interrupting proceedings to ask: ''Who is the EWN reporter here?''

He accused the reporter of being inaccurate in reporting on Major General Zodwa Molefe saying there had been a suggestion from people they had spoken to that there might be a ''kingpin'' in Mayfair who is supplying stock and papers to spaza shop owners, making it difficult for locals to compete with the extremely reduced prices in the stores the foreign nationals set up in the townships.

Motlashuping said he had been watching what the journalist had been reporting, and implored her to ''report positively even if negative things are said''.

She was also chided for tweeting that she was getting a lecture on the media being more responsible.

Co-chair Ruth Bhengu said they had allowed the media to attend the meeting.

''This government allowed the media to report. In the past media people were jailed by the government,'' she said in the conference room of the Alexandra police station which is reached by a narrow litter-strewn street with shacks built to the edge of kerbs, and water running down the streets.

But the real issues at the meeting were to gain feedback on the xenophobic attacks in the area earlier this year, which some on the committee understand to be crime, and are upset that it is branded xenophobia.

Some of the issues they have to unravel is the apparent proliferation of foreign owned spaza shops with no easily traceable owner, and the mystery of how they managed to obtain stock that they could sell at prices far lower than local entrepreneurs.

The issue of the possible ''kingpin'' was raised by a police officer answering a wide range of questions. She was responding to questions on why the suburb of Mayfair kept coming up in discussions on trying to find the root causes of the problems.

Mayfair is to the west of Johannesburg's CBD.

Many on the committee also noted that besides crime, poverty was also a motivating factor, according to what they had been told.

The fatal attack on Emmanuel Josias Sithobele, who President Jacob Zuma had criticised for apparently using a fake name until his identity was cleared up, was by four ''boys'' one of them in high school, one committee member said. The minor, along with Mthinta Bhengu, Sizwe Mngomezulu and Sifundi Mzimela, were alleged to have attacked and stabbed Sithole in the streets of Alexandra on March 18. He was stabbed in the heart and died.

Sithole's attack was allegedly sparked when he demanded payment after the four had taken cigarettes from his stall.

The attack on him was captured by a Sunday Times photographer.

Sithole's death occurred during a wave of xenophobic attacks in April. It started in townships around Durban and spread to Gauteng. At least seven people, including three South Africans and Sithole, were killed. Scores were injured and displaced. On Thursday, the committee meeting with policemen in Moroka, Soweto, heard that there had been similar attacks in January on the West Rand.  

The typical age group of the attackers, the Thursday meeting heard, was youths up to 35 years of age. And attacks were on foreigners who owned shops. 

On Friday at a similar meeting, Motlashuping said the attacks were not xenophobic because South Africans do not have hatred. He had looked it up the dictionary and the wave of violence did not fit the dictionary definition of ''extreme hatred of foreigners''.

The committee also heard that it was difficult to police Alexandra because of the proliferations of shacks making it difficult to find a particular one in an emergency, and the shortage of street names.

One of the people making a presentation at the meeting said, through translation by Bhengu, that the residents of Alexandra were aggrieved by how the incidents were reported by the media.

For them it was ''small boys'' who started the attacks on foreigners and the community was working harmoniously together. Residents in two hostels were involved in Community Policing Forum Meetings.The people of Alexandra did not hate foreigners, and felt there was not crisis.

The committee also heard concerns that foreign nationals were occupying ''RDP'' houses and locals who felt the house were meant for them, were upset.

Read more on:    johannesburg  |  crime  |  xenophobia  |  media

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