Government condemns attacks against immigrants

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been blamed for the latest eruption of xenophobic violence.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has been blamed for the latest eruption of xenophobic violence.
Image: GCIS

The government has condemned attacks against immigrants after a spate of assaults this week that raised fears of a resurgence of deadly xenophobic attacks.

"Government is concerned about the reported attacks on foreign nationals in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo," the state communications department said in a statement issued Thursday night.

"We urge law enforcement agencies to ensure that perpetrators of these violent acts are brought to book".

It called on community leaders to stop and discourage attacks on migrants reported in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.

Police in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal confirmed incidents of attacks by dozens of people which started on Sunday night targeting foreign-owned shops.

Attacks were also reported over the next two days and by Tuesday, police spokesman Thulani Zwane said, a group of protesters "were forcing the foreign nationals out of their homes. No one was injured or assaulted".

He told AFP that police intervened, but "no serious incidents were reported".

By Wednesday around 300 foreign nationals had sought refuge at a mosque in Durban, according to an AFP photographer.

Attacks against foreigners and foreign-run businesses have erupted regularly in recent years in South Africa - the most developed sub-Saharan economy.

Immigrants are often the focus for anger among South Africans hit by a chronic job shortage and the limited progress made by many poor blacks since white-minority rule ended in 1994.

South Africa is host to millions of foreign nationals - many of them economic and political refugees from across Africa including Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and Malawi.

An unknown number of the migrants are undocumented.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance is campaigning for the May 8 election on an illegal migration card, accusing the ruling ANC party of failing to protect the country's borders.

Leader of the non-profit African Diaspora Union (AfriDu), Chidiebere Ogbu, cast the blame for the latest eruption of violence on President Cyril Ramaphosa's remarks at the ANC manifesto launch in January.

"His foot soldiers misunderstood him and started harassing innocent traders," said Ogbu.

In the speech Ramaphosa had vowed to crack down on businesses operating illegally in townships and rural areas.

"We are going to bring this to an end and those who are operating illegally, wherever they come from must now know," Ramaphosa said told supporters.

Recently Gauteng premier David Makhura attracted criticism when he said government should start billing foreign countries whose citizens pop into the country to take advantage of free services.

Makhura, who emphasised that he was not being xenophobic, added he has discovered that there were certain types of criminal activities that were being perpetrated by certain foreign nationals.

"I think some specific crimes [are committed] by some specific nationalities or foreign nationals are involved. Drugs, there's specific nationalities involved. Violent crimes and murders, including cash-in-transit heists, there is specific nationalities involved. To say this is not to make a particular nationality a problem," he said.

Makhura said the police often found Nigerians to be involved in drugs, adding that this doesn't mean that Nigerians were in general involved in the drug trade.

"But we must ask a question: how do we have so many drug dens that are operated by Nigerians in our country? How does this happen? We've got to solve that problem and also we've got to make it a problem with Nigeria [and say], 'too many of your citizens are involved in this type of crime in our country, it is not xenophobic. We should work with that government and say your citizens are free to come to our country but they contribute to a particular area of crime…" he said.

Gauteng human settlements MEC Uhuru Moiloa also recently told reporters that he was frustrated by foreigners who occupy RDP houses meant for South Africans and contribute to the mushrooming of informal settlements in the province.

Moiloa told reporters in Johannesburg on Wednesday that documented foreign nationals could utilise the rental stock that government provides for the general public.

However, the MEC added that there were many undocumented persons who were causing the proliferation of informal settlements in Gauteng. - Additional reporting Sowetan Reporter.

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