Police Minister Nathi Nhleko earlier this week said there was no need for the military, in the form of the SA Army, to be called in to assist in quelling xenophobic violence which has erupted in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Yesterday National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said in a statement “joint operational centres have been activated nationally” adding all relevant role players at the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJOINTS) had reported for duty. This includes the SA National Defence Force as a contributor to the operational arm of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster.
“The security forces will closely monitor the situation on the ground and people are warned that any person committing any acts of crime will be met with the full might of the law. Also, all law abiding citizens are urged to remain calm and to allow the security forces to do their work,” she said.
While no mention is made of any possible deployment of soldiers the use of the phrase “security forces” covers the involvement of both police and military.
For the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to be deployed within the country it has to be authorised by the President, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the defence force.
The Constitution states that only the President may authorise the employment of the defence force in co-operation with the police service. Additionally he has to “promptly and in appropriate detail” inform Parliament of the reasons for the deployment; where the defence force is being employed; the number of people involved and for how long.
Addressing parliament in Cape Town on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma reiterated his condemnation of the violence, calling it a “violation” of South Africa’s values. “No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” he said. “We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms. The attacks violate all the values that South Africa embodies.”
Zuma also said the government was taking steps to secure its porous borders and making progress in setting up a Border Management Agency, announced last year and scheduled to be up and running in 2016.
The xenophobic violence that struck South Africa in 2008 was deemed by government to be beyond control by the police only and the SANDF was deployed. A total of 69 people died in that outbreak of xenophobia which had its roots in Eastern Cape. Around 150 000 fled their homes.
The current outbreak of violence against foreigners, which in certain government circles has been termed “afrophobia” rather than xenophobia, has to date seen five deaths, all in KwaZulu-Natal.
Durban has been at the centre of local on foreigner violence with Johannesburg following suit. Reports have it that foreigners in and around Pretoria are also prepared to batten down the hatches in anticipation of attacks.
The xenophobia has been condemned by the African Union (AU). Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chair of the continental body’s Commission, has called the attacks “unacceptable” saying “whatever challenges we (Africa) may be facing, no circumstances justify attacks on people, whether foreigners or locals”.
Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Naite Nkoana-Mashabane, was due to meet with heads of African diplomatic missions in South Africa today on the issue.
At least one African mission in South Africa has indicated it will be making arrangements for its citizens to speedily move back to their home country.
South Africa is home to an estimated 5 million immigrants, out of a population of 50 million, from African countries including Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and from further afield, including China and Pakistan. Many own shops or sell wares as informal hawkers on street corners or in markets.
Periodic outbreaks of anti-immigrant violence have been blamed on high unemployment, officially around 25 percent although economists say in reality much higher, widespread poverty and glaring income disparities.
In August last year, the Migrating for Work Research Consortium (MiWORC) published research based on Statistics South Africa data. Their findings showed that 80% of the working population aged between 15 and 64 were ‘non-migrants’ (people born in South Africa), 16% were ‘internal migrants’ from other parts of the country and just 4% could be defined as ‘international migrants’, that is, people who come here from other countries. The MiWORC study did find that unemployment rates among international migrants were much lower at 14.68 % – compared to 26.16 % among non-migrants. What explains this is that international migrants are more likely to take up unstable jobs that are scant on benefits and do not have contracts: jobs that locals are often unwilling to take.
According to some of the findings conducted by a government study into xenophobia, the locus of these tensions is mainly driven by criminal elements in areas where there are high levels of poverty and unemployment. In many instances, criminals carry out armed robberies at foreign owned shops under cover of xenophobic tensions.