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Attack on our cops shameful

The attack by foreigners and subsequent retreat by South African Police Service (SAPS) and Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) members in the commercial capital is a source of national shame.

The attack, by a community of migrants, was an affront to our nation state - our sovereignty.

Let's get the facts right: police, acting on intelligence-led investigations, went into the CBD to carry out an operation against shop owners (let's call them this for now) who traded in counterfeit goods. It is important to note that our country mainly loses on two fronts in relation to counterfeit goods.

First, it loses out on the taxes that do not make their way to the national fiscus that is responsible for the roads, water, lights and general services that make these counterfeit shop owners thrive. Second, our country's attempts to generate jobs are undermined by those who trade in and or support counterfeit shop owners.

Statistics SA released a set of data recently showing that unemployment has increased to 29%. So these shop owners are not just a menace because they throw stones at the police, however abhorrent this is.

When a symbol of our state power, our first line of defence, made that shameful retreat from these owners who, in truth, are lawless bandits, we lost control, we surrendered a part of our country to hooligans.

With the SAPS and JMPD running for cover with their tails between their legs, ducking stones, we surrendered our power to exercise control over our land - we surrendered our sovereignty. The stone throwers were peeing on our flag, so to speak.

There is no clearer affront to our national pride than making the nation's protectors run for their lives like scared little chickens.

The subsequent silence of minister of police Bheki Cele is proof that he's now old and tired. The less said of his reticent national commissioner the better.

The younger Cele would have long commanded a return trip to the lion's den with his troops - stomach in, chest out - with instructions to shoot to kill if police lives are threatened.

Indeed, police lives, in a democracy, must never be threatened. Without a functioning police service, all we have is a jungle.

It is inconceivable that a band of business people can go about flouting our laws with their counterfeit goods and, when confronted by the police, unleash violence against which the police cower. What this teaches us is that if criminals don't want the police to act against them, they must go around in groups carrying stones. This is nonsense.

National commissioner Khehla Sitole must get out of his air-conditioned offices and lead his troops to seize the counterfeit goods, then arrest everybody who threw stones at our cops.

There are sufficient cameras in the CBD to ensure the hooligans are identified and suffer the consequences of their actions.

Government has released a statement condemning the incident, but, without a return to the CBD, the statement remains woefully insufficient. The inaction seems an acceptance of defeat by our law enforcers.

The silence is deafening.

By driving out our timid police, the foreigners demonstrated who is in charge in their area. They delegitimised the state. They have made a mockery of our democracy.

They showed that the rule of law - that cardinal tenet of democratic rule - is, in Johannesburg at least, for the meek. If you can throw stones in numbers, you can live according to your own laws. You can disregard the damage your counterfeit business does to our country because the police will not shoot you.

The possibility of a Marikana II is, for President Cyril Ramaphosa, too ghastly to contemplate.

Footage of our police killing "poor" Africans trying to eke out a living in the dungeon that is the CBD will undoubtedly lead to continental condemnation, another commission of inquiry and a field day for opposition parties in parliament.

Let me be clear, though, like former president Thabo Mbeki, I am an African. Let's skip the poetry about mountains and glades, the kings and all. I believe that the wealth of Africa must benefit all her children. I believe that the borders we have, created by colonial rulers, divide and hold Africa back.

It is also plain to me that xenophobes among us would like to use the CBD saga to rally the nation to get rid of Africans born north of the Limpopo. The xenophobes are no different to racists.

The bigotry aside, we must, as South Africans, insist on police doing their work. It must start with the SAPS and JMPD going back to the CBD. We can't have Little Lagos in Joburg, a state within a state that is an impregnable fortress for our very own police.

And, of course, lives must not be lost needlessly. What is unacceptable, though, is that people, their nationality notwithstanding, be allowed to violate the country's laws and, when police try to do their work, unleash anarchy. If foreigners can chase away the cops, why must service delivery protestors show deference to the police?

Why even accept tickets from JMPD if they are fearful of rowdy foreigners? Law enforcers must take back the city.

- Sefara is editor of Sunday World. Engage him on @Sefara_Mak

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