Diepsloot vigilantism echoes apartheid past, says Ramaphosa as he calls for peace

11 April 2022 - 10:44
By Nonkululeko Njilo
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government is focusing on enforcing migration laws, boosting police numbers and re-establishing community policing forums across the country.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi President Cyril Ramaphosa says the government is focusing on enforcing migration laws, boosting police numbers and re-establishing community policing forums across the country.

The vigilantism which saw a Zimbabwean national burnt to death in Diepsloot, north of Johannesburg, last week is tragic and should not be allowed to happen again, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday.   

Elvis Nyathi, a father of four, was killed in an alleged mob attack after failing to produce his identity document just 20m away from his home, an act which the president said echoed SA’s apartheid past.

“We have seen marches being led on people’s homes and their dwellings raided for evidence of criminal activity. We have seen people attacked, hurt and even killed because of how they looked or because they have a particular accent.

“This was how the apartheid oppressors operated,” he wrote in his weekly newsletter.

These acts, the president said, are immoral, racist and criminal.

“In the end, it will lead to xenophobia, the consequences of which we have lived through in previous years. We do not want to go back there because, in the main, the people of SA are not xenophobic.”

The Diepsloot community has been protesting against crime and poor policing of immigration laws.

Ramaphosa said: “We acknowledge many communities are frustrated by the apparent inability of police to deal with criminals. However, acts of lawlessness directed at foreign nationals, whether they are documented or undocumented, cannot be tolerated.

“Attacking those we suspect of wrongdoing merely because they are a foreign national is not an act of patriotism.”

Ramaphosa made an impassioned plea to younger South Africans who never experienced apartheid not to be like “the oppressors”. 

“Let us not become like the ones who oppressed us, no matter how legitimate the grievance.”

The president called on the frustrated community to instead work alongside law enforcement officials to tackle crime. 

“Let us work together to resolve our country’s challenges without resorting to violence or vigilantism. Let us resist those who want to exploit the problems of crime and unemployment for political gain.”  

Regarding people killed by criminals in the area in recent months, Ramaphosa said this was a tragedy and injustice which must not be allowed to happen again.

“This loss of life is deplorable, as is the killing of a fellow African from Zimbabwe, allegedly at the hands of vigilantes. Crime is a serious problem in this country. It affects all communities and people are justifiably tired of living in fear of criminals.”

The president dismissed claims that crime was perpetuated by foreign nationals.

“Contrary to what is claimed by some anti-immigration groupings and individuals, the perpetrators of crime are both black and white, male and female, foreigner and citizen. 

“Crime, not migrants, is the common enemy we must work together to defeat,” he said. 

The enemy could not be defeated through incitement, violence, intimidation and vigilantism aimed at foreign nationals, and specifically nationals from other African countries, said Ramaphosa.

Among measures to tackle crime quickly, Ramaphosa said the government was looking at capacitating the police force with an additional 12,000 officers.

It also planned to re-establish community policing forums (CPFs) across the country.

“These forums bring communities and police representatives together to improve local safety and hold police accountable.

The president admitted illegal immigration posed serious risks to the country’s security, stability and economic progress. Illegal migration also affects service delivery and places additional burdens on essential services such as healthcare and education. 

Controlling migration was entirely the responsibility of government, he said.

“No private citizen may assume the role of immigration or law enforcement authorities by demanding foreign nationals produce identification. Under section 41 of the Immigration Act, only a police member or immigration officer can ask someone to identify themselves as a citizen, permanent resident or foreign national.   

“If these officers believe, on reasonable grounds, the person is in the country unlawfully, they may be detained while an investigation into their status is conducted.

“When doing so, law enforcement authorities must respect that person’s rights and dignity. They may not do so in a manner that is degrading or humiliating.

“Enforcement of migration legislation is a priority for government. We are working to ensure syndicates perpetrating immigration fraud in collusion with corrupt officials are brought to book.”