Police are closely monitoring KyaSands in north-western Johannesburg after five people, including four foreigners, were attacked there overnight. Officers used rubber bullets, armoured vehicles and a helicopter to bring the situation under control, radio reports say.
Eyewitness News says trouble began in the township on Sunday night when a group of locals chased out foreigners and looted several small shops. The violence comes a week after similar attacks in the Western Cape and follows weeks of rumours that non-South Africans such as Zimbabweans, Somalis and Pakistanis resident in largely-poor townships would be driven out after the soccer World Cup.
Reuters reports tensions have long been building between South Africans and millions of foreign migrants they accuse of taking jobs and homes, but open animosity appeared to be put on hold during the World Cup as South Africa showed its best face to the world. A spate of attacks on foreign workers in 2008 killed 62 people and damaged investor confidence. Another wave could wreck the positive image that Africa’s biggest economy was able to portray during the soccer tournament.
Foreign migrants are estimated to make up more than 10 percent of South Africa’s population of about 49 million. Many are Zimbabweans who fled economic collapse at home, Reuters reports.
The South African Press Association on Friday reported that Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa continued to insist that last week’s violence in the Western Cape was “so-called” rather than actual xenophobia. Speaking after a meeting with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Dan Plato, he again cautioned the media over its reporting on the issue. “Some of the reports, you feel it’s by people who wish that those things happen,” he told journalists at Parliament.
The Western Cape was hit by an outbreak of violence Monday as residents of townships in Cape Town and some surrounding towns looted and burned shops belonging to foreigners. Mthethwa has repeatedly claimed that the violence was “actually criminality disguised as xenophobia”. However, nongovernmental organisations have charged that officials seem to be avoiding use of the word xenophobia in the hope that the violence will subside.
Mthethwa said on Friday that the interministerial committee on xenophobia last week decided to meet representatives of provincial and local government, and the media. “What is important is that a call to work together in fighting any possible outbreak of the so-called xenophobia,” he said. “We have to be a united front against any criminal behaviour, because this, by and large, has manifested itself as criminal activities, opportunistically so.”
He said that the media might be fuelling “self-fulfilling prophecies” through its reporting on the issue. “How do we report in a responsible way without actually fuelling a mob mentality kind of a situation?” he asked. He said that there had been a “pattern” in reporting, particularly by foreign media. “We can not look the other way and say because it’s the fourth estate we may not get favour and so on… we have been following those things.”
Zille told the briefing that she agreed fully that the challenge of xenophobia and all the tragedies that resulted from it had to be prevented, and that “we must do that together”. “We agreed [at Friday’s meeting] that xenophobia is real, that it’s a real phenomenon that we have to deal with, that has opportunistic consequences as well,” she said. “I don’t think that we can dismiss xenophobia as purely the work of criminal elements.” She said that the plan developed by all three tiers of government after the 2008 xenophobic violence was working, and there had been “extraordinary” cooperation from the South African Police Service.
It involved identifying flashpoints, working closely with the police to ensure those points did not turn violent, and sending in teams of mediators. Currently there were 20 teams on the ground, most of them in the Cape Town metropole. “I believe the rollout of that plan has been primarily responsible for preventing the threats materialising to any significant extent,” she said.
She had suggested to Mthethwa that the special FIFA World Cup courts be kept going to deal with xenophobic incidents swiftly and publicly. Zille said that she and the two ministers – State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele also attended – had agreed that the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner on Refugees should be approached to ensure that the world body addressed the root causes of the problem.
Among these causes was the fact that neighbouring Zimbabwe was a failed State, with a quarter of its population seeking work elsewhere. “They [the UN] just haven’t applied themselves to how they deal with it,” she said.