Johannesburg – The African Diaspora Forum (ADF) called on the government to stop making statements that criminalise people from other African countries amid fears that Friday’s xenophobic attacks in Tshwane could spread to other parts of South Africa.
ADF spokesperson Johnson Adeke told News24 on Saturday that President Jacob Zuma’s comments on Friday that government cannot ignore claims that foreigners might be linked to crime did not help to calm the situation.
“We have been criminalised by government institutions that are supposed to protect us,” he said as ADF field workers helped with an inventory of destroyed properties, and counted how many people have been injured and displaced in attacks in Mamelodi, Atteridgeville and Rosettenville since the violence started two weeks ago.
In a statement on Friday Zuma said: “We cannot close our eyes to the concerns of the communities that most of the crimes, such as drug dealing, prostitution, and human trafficking are allegedly perpetuated by foreign nationals.”
Statements such as these simply single out and stereotype migrants, he said.
Waiting for public apology
The ADF had written to Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba, to Zuma, and other government institutions warning them that trouble was brewing after Mashaba’s statement that he would remove “illegal foreigners” from Johannesburg, but to no avail.
Adeke said that many of the houses torched in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, by people who accused the residents of running drug houses and brothels, were not all owned by migrants.
“It is a stereotype. There were drugs in South Africa before Nigerians came here. The man who lost [his] cars in Rosettenville was not dealing in drugs. The drug issues in Manenberg in Cape Town – those are not Nigerians living there,” he said.
On February 11, at least 10 houses were torched in Rosettenville amid claims that they were housing brothels and drug dealers.
That was preceded by people going into houses a week before and carrying out furniture and setting it alight as an apparent warning.
Adeke said the ADF is still waiting for a public apology from Mashaba for his comments, but Mashaba’s spokesperson Tony Taverna-Turisan said the mayor’s comments during his address in the council on his first 100 days as mayor, were misquoted.
136 people arrested
He said he would deal with all criminals, said Taverna-Turisan.
“We cannot accept lawlessness in our city and any criminal, whether a South African national or a foreign national, must be apprehended. To say that we must keep quiet about illegal immigrants is to say we must ignore the rule of law and that is simply unacceptable,” said the mayor’s spokesperson.
READ: Mashaba won’t keep quiet about illegal immigrants – spokesperson
Adeke said the situation had got to a point where migrants are surrounded by mobs who demand their identity documents, and then claim they are fraudulent when they are produced.
Police said they arrested 136 people in confrontations around Atteridgeville, Mamelodi and Marabastad on Friday and managed to restore order again.
A group called the Mamelodi Concerned Residents had planned to march from Marabastad to the Hallmark building in Pretoria to complain about foreigners committing crimes.
Police spokesperson Colonel Vish Naidoo said a group of people from Atteridgeville blocked roads, burnt tyres and threw stones.
Excuse for criminality
They also marched into the CBD without permission and had to be dispersed when there was a confrontation with another group, apparently made up of migrants.
There were angry standoffs that were broken up, with the police firing stun grenades at times.
The Coalition of Civics Against Xenophobia said the violence and looting that accompanied Friday’s events showed that xenophobia is an excuse for criminality.
CCAX spokesperson Mametlwe Sebei also placed the blame on Mashaba.
“His public statements against ‘illegal foreigners’, demanding they ‘leave his city’, played a direct role in inciting the violence and emboldening peripheral groups like the Mamelodi Concerned Residents.
“He has wrecked lives. We demand the resignation of this divisive politician and will be pursuing every [and] all means to hold him accountable.”
The coalition is planning its own march to unite migrants against crime, xenophobia and poverty.