Thursday, 22 May 2008

Troops called in as SA burns

May 21 2008 at 06:56PM

President Thabo Mbeki has given the nod for the military to help the police curb xenophobic violence that has claimed at least 42 lives by Wednesday.

Police reported in the afternoon that attacks on foreigners, which erupted in Gauteng last week, had spread to more provinces.

"President Thabo Mbeki has approved a request from the South African Police Service for the involvement of the South African National Defence Force in stopping ongoing attacks on foreign nationals in Gauteng Province," a statement from the president's office said.

Police spokesperson director Sally de Beer said they had asked for equipment and personnel.

Police said that 16 000 people had been displaced since the violence began in Alexandra and 400 people had been arrested

Mpumalanga police said the shack-burning and looting targeted at foreigners began there on Tuesday, and in KwaZulu-Natal, police were monitoring Durban's Dalton Road area after an attack on a Nigerian-owned tavern.

Constable Sibusiso Mbuli said that about 200 foreigners sought refuge at Leslie police station on Tuesday night after tuckshops were looted there and in Embalenhle.

"Even now the situation has not stabilised. We see people moving about and when they see police bakkies they run away," said Mbuli.

A Nigerian-owned tavern came under attack in Durban's Umbilo on Tuesday night, and while police were treating it as an act of "criminality", KwaZulu-Natal safety MEC Bheki Cele blamed the IFP.

"There was a meeting of the IFP branch in Dalton yesterday (Tuesday) and...I know it was them who went straight from there to the tavern and raided the place and smashed the cars," Cele said.

Durban's Dalton Road is the site of a number of hostels.

However, the IFP denied responsibility, with IFP KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Mntomuhle Khawula saying he was disturbed by Cele's statement.

He said that if any IFP members were involved in the xenophobic attacks they would face disciplinary action.

"The IFP is all about ubuntu...In the African lifestyle, you never chase away people, you comfort and give protection, so xenophobia is against our policy," he said.

IFP head Mangosuthu Buthelezi said his earlier predictions that xenophobia was brewing were ignored.

As a former home affairs minister he had suggested a more open controlled immigration policy but this was ignored, and abandoned when he left the ministry.

No "serious" incidents were reported in Gauteng on Wednesday, which the provincial government has attributed to co-ordinated efforts by communities and the police.

Spokesperson Thabo Masebe said a number of community organisations had been working "on the ground" telling people that whatever problems they had, it did not justify the violence, and giving police information on pending attacks, as well as handing over people they suspected of the attacks.

"We can attribute it to some work that has been going on and the police. The police couldn't do it without the support of their communities," said Masebe.

Police spokesperson director Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said that a councillor and three community leaders were among those arrested.

Meanwhile, the centres and police stations housing people fleeing from the violence urgently needed food, baby food, nappies and blankets for the thousands seeking shelter.

Ekurhuleni spokesperson Zweli Mkhize appealed for such donations to be taken to the metro's service centres and arrangements to collect bulk donations could be made by phoning 011-874-5025.

The crowded conditions led the police to contract the "Red Ants" usually associated with forced removals, to help control people at the Cleveland police station, especially at meal times.

"Images of 'necklacings', violent beatings and the sight of frightened children caught between marauding mobs and police firing rubber bullets belong to a troubled period in our traumatic history; it has no place in our present democracy," the Helen Suzman Foundation said.

"It is a spectre that great men and women from all walks of life fought against - with great sacrifice - to eradicate from our country's soul forever."

The Coalition Against Water Privatisation said it had held a community meeting in Sebokeng to convince people to help prevent the attacks.

"We sent the message that the reason why there is no delivery of the houses that we are fighting for as South Africans is not because of people from other countries, but it is because of the failure of our own government to deliver services," he said.

"There is no foreigner in Africa. There is no way my brother from Zimbabwe can be seen as a foreigner. These people have done nothing wrong, they want a better life."

The coalition had organised a group of volunteers who had agreed to protect people who felt under threat because of their nationality, after a taxi load of foreigners were confronted as they sought refuge at the KwaMasiza hostel in the area.

The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) said the government had not done enough to "arrest the anarchy".

Its president Julius Malema said: "We call on government to unleash every resource at its disposal to nip this anarchy in the bud, including deployment of the military if the need arises."

He called on youth to rise against the "thuggery and hooliganism" and to bring order to their communities.

"Killing others and burning their homes do nothing for our society, and may cloud genuine concerns they may have," he said.

A "necklace" is a word coined during apartheid used when a person was doused in petrol with a tyre around their neck, and a match was thrown at them. - Sapa


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