Xenophobia flares in Pretoria
City police ‘have a plan in place’
SOUTH Africa’s capital was on a knife’s edge as a storm of xenophobic violence burst out in Pretoria, while in Cape Town police are reportedly prepared for possible attacks against foreigners.
There was a bitter stand- off between locals and foreigners in the streets of Pretoria yesterday, with both sides hurling insults and threats.
Police fired rubber bullets at the groups, and by last night, said acting national police commissioner Lieutenant- General Khomotso Phahlane, 156 people had been arrested in connection with this week’s looting and violence.
It was unclear how many of those in custody were South Africans and how many were foreigners.
In Cape Town, against a backdrop of unease in foreigner communities at the xenophobic sentiments being expressed in parts of the country, a group representing Ghanaian committees in Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Nyanga, Langa and Philippi met senior police officials, who assured them there were no immediate threats to foreigners in the Western Cape, but said “plans (were) in place in case protests broke out”.
Pressed for details of these plans, police spokeswoman Constable Noloyiso Rwexana said: “I am not in a position to share operational matters”.
Kofi Boahen, who owns a hairdressing salon in Gugulethu, said: “We fear reporting any act of violence because we live with these people and, although the police told us that they would do everything in their power to protect us, we know they can only do so much.”
President Jacob Zuma called on South Africans not to act in a xenophobic manner and to march peacefully against crime.
Zuma also warned refugees in SA to “behave” or risk being discriminated against by the government.
Zuma said: “In other countries refugees are put in camps, but because we respect the human
rights here we don’t.
“But if they operate the way they do they may be forcing us to discriminate (against) them and yet we thought we could handle the situation.”
Zuma said it was media reports which had suggested the marches were xenophobic in nature.
“The march in Mamelodi is anti-crime in the main; it is not xenophobic and I have been told that the people leading the march are saying so.
“It is not an anti- foreigners march. It is not anti-Nigerians as it has been portrayed,” he said.
Anti- immigrant violence has flared sporadically around the country, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from citizens and involvement in crime.
Yesterday police formed a barrier between rival crowds of citizens and non-nationals marching in Pretoria, but both sides began shouting at each other and brandishing rocks and sticks, prompting police to disperse them.
Shops were closed in Marabastad, western Pretoria, where many foreigners have stores, and roads were blocked as marchers gathered. Some foreigners carried rocks and sticks, saying they were ready to protect their stores.
A Somali shopowner, 37, said he feared for his life. “My shops get looted a few times a year,” he said.
The marches follow the looting this week of at least 20 small businesses believed to belong to Nigerian and Pakistani immigrants. Residents said they had attacked the shops because they were dens of prostitution and drug dealing. Some said they had lost jobs to the foreigners.
A 34-year old South African, who declined to be named, said a Zimbabwean took his job at a manufacturing plant because he was willing to work for less.
“The police must leave us alone so we can sort them out,” he said, pointing at a group of foreign shop owners.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba on Thursday acknowledged violence had flared up against foreigners this year, adding that “unfortunately, xenophobic violence is not new in South Africa”.
Earlier this week, Nigeria’s foreign ministry said it would summon South Africa’s envoy to raise its concerns over “xenophobic attacks” on Nigerians, other Africans and Pakistanis.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has expressed shock at the City of Tshwane’s granting permission for the march.
“We remind South Africans of Nelson Mandela’s firm rejection of xenophobia. In 1995 he addressed a gathering in Alexandra and said: ‘During the years I lived here, the people of Alexandra ignored tribal and ethnic distinctions. Instead of being Xhosas, or Sothos, or Zulus, or Shangaans, we were Alexandrans. We were one people, and we undermined the distinctions that the apartheid government tried so hard to impose. It saddens and angers me to see the rising hatred of foreigners.’”
Luzuko Koti, Nelson Mandela Foundation spokesperson, said: “Our leadership from all sectors of society, government leaders, business leaders, civil society, and parents who are leaders in homes, must rise from their comfort and not just speak anti- xenophobic messages but act towards social cohesion and inclusion. Inaction in this matter will have far reaching implications for South Africa and set us back decades as a stable democracy”.
In retaliation, Nigerian protesters vandalised the head office of South African mobile phone company MTN in Abuja on Thursday.
A man clings to his passport after being attacked by a mob as xenophobic violence flared in Pretoria yesterday.
Police used tear gas to disperse crowds on the streets after marches turned violent in the capital city.
Defiant protesters confront law enforcement officers as the tension brewed between locals and foreigners this week.