SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE BREAK UP ANTI-IMMIGRANT PROTESTS
February 24, 2017 | Uhuruspirit
A man shows his South African identity card after he was manhandled by some protesters who mistook him for a foreigner © REUTERS / James Oatway
South African police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse rival marches by hundreds of protesters in Pretoria on Friday, after mobs looted stores this week believed to belong to immigrants.
Anti-immigrant violence has flared sporadically in South Africa against a background of high unemployment rate, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from citizens and involvement in crime.
Armed police had formed a barrier between rival crowds of citizens and non-nationals marching in Pretoria, but both sides began shouting at one another and brandishing rocks and sticks, prompting police to disperse the angry mobs.
Shops were shuttered in Marabastad, an area of western Pretoria where many foreign nationals have their stores, and roads were blocked as the marchers gathered. Some of the foreigners carried rocks and sticks, saying they were ready to protect their stores.
One Somali shopowner, 37, said he feared for his life. "My shops get looted a few times a year," he said.
The marches follow the looting this week of at least 20 small businesses believed to belong to Nigerian and Pakistani immigrants. Residents said they had attacked the shops because they were dens of prostitution and drug dealing. Some said they had lost jobs to the foreigners.
A petition the protesters handed to the home affars ministry, suggested that the government teach foreigners to speak properly. "They are arrogant and they don't know how to talk to people especially Nigerians," the petition said.
A 34-year old South African, who declined to be named, said a Zimbabwean took his job at a manufacturing plant because he was willing to work for less.
"The police must leave us alone so we can sort them out," he said, pointing at a group of foreign shop owners.
Random acts of violence, looting and destruction of property had occurred, Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane said.
"Over 24-hour period, 156 have been arrested," Phahlane told a news conference, and "those inciting violence will face prosecution." It was unclear how many of those in custody were South Africans and how many foreigners.
President Jacob Zuma condemned acts of violence between citizens and non-nationals, his office said in a statement on Friday. Zuma appealed to citizens not to blame all crime on non-nationals.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba on Thursday acknowledged violence had flared up against foreigners this year, adding that "unfortunately, xenophobic violence is not new in South Africa."
In retaliation, Nigerian protesters vandalized the head office of South African mobile phone company MTN in Abuja on Thursday.
Earlier this week, Nigeria's foreign ministry said it would summon South Africa's envoy to raise its concerns over "xenophobic attacks" on Nigerians, other Africans and Pakistanis.
Meanwhile, Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, has been accused of inflaming tensions, after he said at a press conference in December 2016 that “illegal immigrants got here criminally and should be treated as such.” He added, “You see, for me, when I call these criminals criminals, I want them to understand they are criminals”.
In a statement earlier today calling for tolerance, the ANC said that again blamed Mashaba for helping to incite the ongoing violence.
“Violence has no place in our country where we strive to promote peaceful coexistence between all those who reside within our borders. These are acts of criminality and the ANC calls on our law-enforcement authorities to deal appropriately with those found to be behind these attacks. Similarly, the ANC calls on all South Africans, and in particular, persons in positions of leadership in communities and of political parties, to refrain from inflammatory rhetoric that stokes the flames of intolerance.
“The mayor of the city of Johannesburg Mr Herman Mashaba should be singled out for particular mention.
“His pompous call in December 2016 for foreigners to leave ‘his city’ – declaring that all foreigners in the province were illegal - in fact preceded this spate of attacks on foreigners.
“The ANC notes the bitter irony of the political opposition the Democratic Alliance (DA) ‘condemning xenophobic violence’ in Gauteng when it was the reckless statements of Mayor Mashaba that lit the tinderbox of hatred in the first place.
“Issues of crime and illegal immigration fall within the purview of our law-enforcement and border management agencies. We should not and cannot allow vigilantism to prevail.
“Communities concerned at high levels of crime should address their concerns to the relevant law-enforcement authorities, and not take the law into their own hands.
“The ANC is committed to the realization of Agenda 2030 of the African Union and its aspiration of a peaceful and united Africa. The grim images of African turning on African take us back to a dark time in our history that should never be repeated.”
Indeed, Mayor Mashaba has also released a statement, condemning violence.
"I would like to again reiterate my deep concern for the flare up of xenophobic violence in parts of Gauteng, most recently seen in Tshwane this morning.
“I call on all peace loving South Africans to reject groupings which seek to place the blame for crime and unemployment squarely at the feet of foreign residents in our communities.
“I implore our residents not to take the law into their own hands and respect human rights and the rule of law.”
Many others, including COSATU, DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, EFF have also condemned attacks against African immigrants in the country.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation also issued a statement, calling it a "march of hatred".
"[We] express shock and take exception to the authorities’ decision giving permission for a march of hatred in Tshwane," the foundation said in a statement.
The foundation called on leaders in all spheres of government, business, civil society, and in homes to take action.
"[They] must rise from their comfort and not just speak anti-xenophobic messages, but act towards social cohesion and inclusion."
The foundation called on South Africans to refrain from violence and instead seek solutions through dialogue.
"We call on all South Africans to take responsibility for embracing the hospitality that defines our democratic order," it said.
"[The violence] is destroying lives and bringing South Africa shame internationally."
- with Reuters/News24
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