Police have been deployed in several townships on the Western Cape province of South Africa to protect foreign nationals after escalating threats of violence against them. By noon, Cape police had arrested seven people for looting businesses owned by foreigners.
Police said two shacks were destroyed and sporadic looting reported in various townships in the Cape Peninsula and Boland. Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa last week played down rumours that another xenophobic pogrom was in the offing. Violence in May 208 killed 62 and left over 100 000 homeless.
Reuters reports that signs of social instability could potentially harm South Africa’s image and investor sentiment, undoing the gains of hosting a successful soccer World Cup tournament that ended overnight. Police say the situation in the Western Cape province is tense but there have not been injuries so far.
“There were two shacks that were burned in separate areas and there’s been sporadic incidents of looting and threats have been made on foreign nationals,” said Western Cape police spokesman Frederick van Wyk. “Police have responded. At this moment there is a heavy police contingent (in several areas) which also includes Metro police and SANDF (South African National Defence Force),” he added.
The biggest economy in Africa has attracted millions of workers from across the continent and further afield, but their presence is not always welcomed by those locals who compete with them for scarce jobs and resources.
Police in Gauteng say there have not been incidents against foreigners in the economic hub of South Africa.
The rumours suggested the violence would begin today. Eyewitness News reports the threats have grown louder as the tournament drew to a close with foreigners saying they were told to leave the country or be killed. Eyewitness News says few township residents across Gauteng have not heard the rumours of xenophobic violence, and some had already packed their bags and fled.
But Mthethwa twice last week said the “rumours” were simply not true. “There is nothing that will happen, police are here. Law enforcement agencies are here,” said Mthethwa. He has called on South Africans to rise against xenophobia calling it “an attack on our humanity.”
Mthethwa attended an anti-xenophobia meeting in the Cape Town township of Khayelitsha on Friday afternoon along with community leaders and foreign nationals. While there he reportedly decried the threats as racist rumour mongering.
The South African Press Association also reported him as saying unspecified but high-ranking politicians had become “peddlers of fear” over xenophobia. “We condemn and caution against this alarmist phobia by those who fuel these rumours,” he said in somewhat incoherent comments released by his office. These are the people who prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup embarked on the infamous smear campaign, saying there will be bloodbath in this country and that crime is spiraling out of control,” he said.
“It becomes such a pity when those who claim to be leaders are supposed to discharge leadership and guidance to project a common cause, end up being the peddlers of fear and anxiety.” The minister’s comments were aimed at “leaders who hold high positions in government and in society”, his ministry said.
On Thursday, Mthethwa dismissed as “hysteria” reports that foreigners were fleeing the Western Cape in anticipation of a backlash again them after the tournament. He said that an investigation showed that the scores of foreigners leaving the city in the past few days were seasonal workers returning home.
Rumours of a post world cup outbreak of xenophobia have persisted since late May when a group of eminent global leaders called the “Elders” warned foreigners might be targeted after the event as jobs start becoming scarcer. Former Ireland President Mary Robinson, a member of the group, said at the time: “We are more worried after the World Cup, the possibilities of xenophobia… construction jobs fall away and people, especially from Zimbabwe, will be looking for jobs.”
Mthethwa’s media release:
KHAYELITSHA COMMUNITY SETS GOOD EXAMPLE IN FIGHTING XENOPHOBIC THREATS
Minister Mthethwa applauds community and cautions against unnecessary fueling of threats
“This community’s refusal to be drawn into marginal and lunatic warfare orchestrated by prophets of doom, serves as a shining example to be emulated by all communities around our country,” said while giving a keynote address at an Anti-Xenophobic Summit, held in Khayelitsha, Western Cape.
Minister Mthethwa shared with the community government’s plan, which he termed a unity of purpose and a single vision, which was formulated at yesterday’s Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) meeting. The basic principle of this plan is to engage all stakeholders within the community to build unity of purpose, single vision and a programme to address this current challenge.
One of the cornerstones of government’s plan in dealing with the issue of xenophobic threats, is centered around the proactive facilitation of a societal dialogue. Today’s summit is setting a good example to other communities to follow because it was attended by political party representatives, police, church leaders, community structures, NGOs. “During our deliberations at the IMC we all spoke in one voice that: neither shall we allow a handful of malcontents to perpetuate negative grand-standing. We vowed that we shall not allow some lunatics whose desire is to cast a negative shadow on our positive and good image as a country.
The Minister further cautioned some leaders who hold high positions in government and in society who fuel these threats. These are the people who, prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup embarked on the infamous smear campaign, saying there will be bloodbath in this country and that crime is spiralling out of control. “We condemn and caution against this alarmist-phobia by those who fuel these rumours. Their actions are intended to divert attention of the world from our success and celebratory mood. We shall never give an inch or space for evil intentions in the current massive show of support for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”
He dared all those who claim to be leaders to show responsibility, care, human compassion and solidarity with those who are currently living in fear of this dangerous rumour-mongering. “It becomes such a pity when those who claim to be leaders are supposed to discharge leadership and guidance to project a common cause, end up being the peddlers of fear and anxiety,” he added.
Government is cognizant that there will be a once-off-one-stop solution. However we are steadfast in our belief that together we can do more to defeat crime, in whatever form it manifest itself, whether or not it is branded xenophobia. “Government is in charge. Police are in charge. Each day we are gaining momentum and scoring victories in the fight against criminals,” concluded the Minister.
For enquiries, please contact:
Zweli Mnisi, Ministerial Spokesperson 082 045 4024
Pic: Refuges displaced during the May 2008 pogrom