Ministers of Police Nathi Mthethwa and Lindiwe Sisulu have again spoken out against xenophobic violence and promised the full penalty of the law for those who do evil to their neighbours. Police yesterday arrested seven men in Nyanga, Cape Town, on charges of public violence. Some foreign-owned shops were attacked in the area and several other areas of the Western Cape yesterday.
There have been persistent rumours that xenophobic violence was likely in the aftermath of the 2010 Fifa World Cup that ended Sunday and that foreigners were fleeing the Western Cape in anticipation of attacks. Mthethwa last week twice dismissed the speculation, saying investigation had shown that those leaving were foreign migrant workers returning home. He accused politicians who had raised the spectre of violence of being “peddlers of fear”.
Police and troops were deployed in force yesterday morning in the province as scores of foreigners sought refuge at police stations in Cape Town and surrounding towns. Mthethwa’s spokesman Zweli Mnisi said his minister and Sisulu travelled to the Western Cape later in the day “to get first-hand reports from senior law enforcement officers”. They later returned to Pretoria.
Sisulu said in a statement the military would do all it could to help the police and vowed that anybody who targeted foreigners would be dealt with. “Opportunistic criminals must know that we will deal with them harshly… There is no way we will allow them to spread fear and crime. We are working very hard to find them and prosecute them,” the South African Press Association reports.
Police spokesman Captain Frederick van Wyk told the Independent Group newspapers there were “sporadic incidents of looting” at shops belonging to foreigners on Sunday night. Areas where this occurred included Nyanga, Philippi East and Khayelitsha on the Cape Flats, Wellington, Paarl East, Mbekweni (a Paarl township), Franschhoek and Klapmuts. “Police responded and a heavy police contingency was deployed in conjunction with metro police and SANDF in all these areas,” Van Wyk said.
He added the police “will continue to deploy in high numbers to maintain law and order in the mentioned areas. Tranquillity has been restored and no further reports of violence have been reported.”
Provincial disaster management spokeswoman Daniella Ebenezer earlier said 70 foreigners had sought refuge overnight at the Mbekweni police station in Paarl and 22 at Wellington. There were smaller numbers at police stations in Franschhoek, and Langa and Harare on the Cape Flats. They had gone there “mainly because they were fearful”, but in some instances following attacks on shops. Ebenezer said there were “sporadic” attacks on shops on Saturday in the region, and “some incidents of looting” on Sunday. No-one had been seriously injured.
She said according to reports from police, spaza shops and containers used as shops were “damaged” in Mbekweni, Paarl East, Wellington and Nyanga on Sunday. Ebenezer said the province’s community development workers had been providing information to authorities on what was happening on the ground. Mediators deployed to communities last week would continue their efforts, the newspapers report. “Provincial and local government are on standby to provide humanitarian support, should this be required,” she continued.
The state BuaNews agency added that Sisulu urged foreign nationals who are intimidated and threatened to report the perpetrators to the police and the latter will take necessary steps. Sisulu said security agencies are on high alert to stop possible violence, adding that the SANDF will make all resources available to support the police to stop opportunistic criminals who are threatening citizens. “As a result, the ministers have also instructed that the SANDF and the SAPS be jointly deployed to ensure that all citizens are safe and no one is threatened,” BuaNews said.
The ministers urged community leaders and political parties to spread messages of no tolerance towards criminals and those who threaten foreign nationals or intimidate them. “From community level to national leaders, we must unite against opportunistic elements who take genuine concerns of our people to spread messages of hate and commit criminal activities, those people have no place in our society, law enforcement officers must deal with them harshly,” Sisulu said.
While the duo were in the Cape, President Jacob Zuma said threats of an outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa were still rumours. “I’m not certain whether there have been threats of xenophobia. I know that there have been rumours that have been reported,” he told journalists in Sandton, SAPA reports. “There have been reports, which we don’t know the source of yet, that in fact there will be xenophobia attacks after 2010.
“We are not necessarily failing to do our duty to ensure that it does not happen, but let us just make a distinction between a rumour and a real concrete report with a clear source of information.” “Government is on top of that situation and I’m sure people should not have fears because we are there as government to look at the security of people and, indeed, we are ready to deal with the situation of that nature.” He continued there was not yet “concrete evidence” of xenophobic attacks.
“I don’t think people should really take it as a reality when people just say ‘we suspect after this there could be xenophobia’, because there is no concrete evidence that South Africans have said so.”
Zuma said it was unlikely that South Africans would welcome World Cup visitors on the one hand and threaten foreigners on the other.
In 2008, 62 people died and 150 000 were displaced in a wave of xenophobic attacks which started in Gauteng.