The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says government departments are responding poorly to xenophobic violence. Chairman Lawrence Mushwana has told Members of Parliament his state rights watchdog is finding this frustrating.
Government departments had simply not responded to recommendations contained in a xenophobia report released by the SAHRC in March, Mushwana told Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice yesterday, he outh African Press Association reports. “When the report was launched all various departments were there. They made an undertaking that in a month’s time they were going respond. They were going to tell us what steps they were taking to implement some of the recommendations so that come another outbreak of xenophobia, we would be ready.
“But we had to write every time. It was only in my last attempt during June, that was when we started receiving the first response. This makes things difficult for us.” Mushwana said that the commission’s task was to see whether the government had “put systems in place” to prevent an outbreak of xenophobic violence similar to 2008, but that the responses had been apathetic,SAPA reported.
“We compile some of the reports. We make recommendations. We bring them here. We write. But no one answers.” Mushwana said that he had asked one director-general (DG) to provide feedback on the SAHRC’s recommendations, but he was still waiting. “When I briefed the security cluster last week, I raised the same issue. One minister complained that some of the recommendations don’t relate to her department. “I said your DG who attended the launch of the report raised the same issue. We called upon the person to write to us, but up to today nothing has come.
“It is frustrating on our part. We can only monitor. We check what government has done.” Mushwana, who was in Parliament to present the SAHRC’s xenophobia report to the committee, said that the largest problem that the government faced was in determining the causes of violence against foreigners. “Until we know what is causing [this], we will not be able to solve it,” he said.
During a recent meeting, high commissioners and ambassadors were “very critical” of the government for denying xenophobia.
“Their argument was that if it is pure crime, why is it targeting foreign nationals?” Mushwana said. It was strange, he said, that vast areas in Limpopo were completely “Mozambican and Zimbabwean”, but were completely peaceful. “You don’t find this in the rural areas. It is isolated. You don’t find it in areas with traditional leaders either.”
National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele, who had sent individuals “at a low level” to try find out what was causing the violence, told Mushwana it had been found that “unfair competition” among businesses was one of the major factors. Mushwana however, was not convinced by this. “There are areas where you will say that this is crime, but the ultimate question is, why is it targeted to foreign nationals? “Is it crime? Is it xenophobia? What is the thinking behind it? They are here to take our jobs? Is it socio-economic?”
Mushwana said that there was “a strong feeling” that somewhere there was “a hand driving these forces”. “When the soccer tournament ended, the question in the media was when is it starting? And it started. There is a programme somewhere that needs crime intelligence.” He said that the SAHRC was glad however, of the action taken by police and military to quell the violence, which had convinced people the government was serious about the issue,SAPA said.
Business Day, meanwhile, quotes Gerald Kraak, South African head of the US foundation Atlantic Philanthropies as saying government may have chosen to deny the existence of xenophobic violence but was better prepared for it than in 2008, when 62 people were killed in attacks on foreigners. “This time, even though they publicly play down xenophobia, they take it seriously,” he said yesterday.
His comments came after reports that Doctors Without Borders — better known by its French name Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) — had moved into KyaSands township in Johannesburg, the scene of clashes between foreigners and locals on Monday night. MSF had been working in central Johannesburg and in Musina, providing Zimbabweans seeking refuge in SA with medical care and mental health services. At least 16 people, mostly foreigners, have been attacked during the past two days and about 12 people were arrested in connection with xenophobic skirmishes, Business Day says.
The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA welcomed the arrests but said there was a need to assess the situation so that violence did not erupt again as soon as the law enforcement authorities left .