Vigilantism, crime, illegal migration will be dealt with – President Ramaphosa

President Cyril Ramaphosa has used his weekly newsletter to condemn anti-foreigner sentiments, acts of vigilantism and assure citizens that government is dealing with illegal migration in the country.

This in the wake of recent protests in Diepsloot against alleged deficiencies in policing following several murders in the area.

The protest turned violent and culminated in the murder of an alleged illegal migrant.

“The events in the Gauteng township of Diepsloot last week were a tragedy. In the course of a single weekend, seven people were killed, sparking protests. This loss of life is deplorable, as is the killing of a fellow African from Zimbabwe allegedly at the hands of vigilantes,” President Ramaphosa said.

The President emphasised that although crime remains a “serious problem in this country,” crime cannot be laid solely at the hands of any specific group.

“Crime…affects all communities and people are justifiably tired of living in fear of criminals. Contrary to what is claimed by some anti-immigration groupings and individuals, the perpetrators of crime are both black and white, male and female, foreigner and citizen.

“Crime, not migrants, is the common enemy we must work together to defeat. We cannot defeat crime through incitement, violence, intimidation and vigilantism aimed at foreign nationals, and specifically nationals from other African countries,” he said.

Dealing with crime and illegal migration

President Ramaphosa said government acknowledges frustrations by communities against the “apparent inability of police to deal with criminals” and is already taking steps to correct this.

“Among the measures we are taking to capacitate the police is the recruitment of an additional 12 000 additional police officers. We are also re-establishing community policing forums (CPFs) across the country. These forums bring communities and police representatives together to improve local safety and hold police accountable. Communities need to work with the police by actively participating in CPFs and reporting suspected acts of criminality,” he said.

The President said that at the same time, government is aware of the security, stability and economic risks posed by illegal migration poses and the “burden” it places on essential services and service delivery.

He warned, however, that private citizens are not empowered “to assume the role of immigration or law enforcement authorities” by demanding identification from foreign nationals.

“Under Section 41 of the Immigration Act, only a police member or immigration officer can ask someone to identify themselves as a citizen, permanent resident or foreign national. If these officers believe, on reasonable grounds, that the person is in the country unlawfully, they may be detained while an investigation into their status is conducted.

“Enforcement of migration legislation is a priority for government. We are working to ensure that syndicates perpetrating immigration fraud in collusion with corrupt officials are brought to book. This year alone, several people implicated in passport fraud have been arrested,” he said.

An appeal to obey the law

The President reflected on some of the scenes that played out in Diepsloot and other parts of the country in the name of ridding the country of illegal migrants.

“We have seen people being stopped on the street by private citizens and being forced to produce identification to verify their immigration status. We have seen some political leaders making unscientific statements about immigrants to exploit people’s grievances for political gain.

“We have seen marches being led on people’s homes and their dwellings raided for evidence of criminal activity. We have seen people being attacked, hurt and even killed because of how they looked or because they have a particular accent,” President Ramaphosa said.

He said these actions echo the actions taken during the height of Apartheid.

“This was how the apartheid oppressors operated. They said some people could only live in certain areas, operate certain businesses or take certain jobs. Under apartheid, black people were deemed suspects by default and stopped by police when found in so-called white areas. Black people were forced to produce a dompas and if they could not do so, they were jailed.

“We cannot allow such injustices to happen again,” the President said.

President Ramaphosa called on citizens not to repeat the xenophobic attacks which have rocked the country over the past decade.

“Attacking those we suspect of wrongdoing merely because they are a foreign national is not an act of patriotism. It is immoral, racist and criminal. In the end, it will lead to xenophobia, whose consequences we have lived through in previous years. We do not want to go back there because in the main the people of South Africa are not xenophobic.

“I want to appeal to all South Africans, but particularly to younger South Africans who thankfully never experienced the true brutality and dehumanisation of apartheid. Let us not become like the ones who oppressed us, no matter how legitimate the grievance,” President Ramaphosa said.