President Thabo Mbeki on Monday reiterated his call for an immediate end to attacks on foreign nationals in Gauteng, which have left 22 people dead and up to 10 000 seeking refuge in shelters.
“Citizens from other countries on the African continent and beyond are as human as we are and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” the president said in a statement.
“We dehumanise ourselves the moment we start thinking of another person as less human than we are simply because they come from another country.”
South Africans should appreciate that they were bound to other Africans by culture, economics and above all, history.
“South Africa is not and will never be an island separate from the rest of the continent,” he said.
Mbeki called upon those behind the “shameful and criminal acts” to stop.
“The law-enforcement agencies must and will respond with the requisite measures against anyone found to be involved in these attacks.”
Mbeki said that everything possible was being done to bring perpetrators to book.
“Already, more than 200 alleged perpetrators have been arrested. Both the minister of safety and security and the acting police national commissioner are keeping me informed of developments and I am confident that the police will soon make significant breakthroughs in getting to the root of this anarchy.”
Mbeki thanked the public, police and community members who had joined in with calls for the cessation of violence.
“In particular, I would like to thank those who have lent a helping hand to the victims by, amongst others, offering shelter, clothes and food.”
These people, he said, had demonstrated true South African spirit.
“Let us all work together to make it impossible for the few criminals in our midst to realise their inhuman objectives,” said Mbeki.
‘Isolate the criminal element’
Meanwhile, the African National Congress (ANC) met with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to discuss the current wave of xenophobic attacks, the ANC’s national working committee said on Monday.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the meeting had taken place because the flashpoints where the violence had occurred were places where there was an IFP presence.
“Your structure must talk to our structure … so there is no mud-slinging,” he said.
He said the situation was such that anyone could jump on to the bandwagon and trigger a reaction.
The two parties had agreed to keep lines of communication open and to work together in all areas where they had structures. The parties would “isolate the criminal element” and work together with law-enforcement agencies.
Mantashe said the ANC was looking at all possibilities of what might be behind the attacks. This could be anything, such as whether people felt there was a lack of service delivery or if there was some issue around development houses allegedly being sold for kickbacks.
“Anything that people suspect is the cause we must dig deep into the case,” he said.
ANC spokesperson Jessie Duarte said speaking to the IFP was a “purely proactive” step. “Where we can work together, we will,” she said.
She said all ANC structures had been called to talk directly to the communities where the violence was taking place.
A meeting had taken place with all four ministers in the security clusters, she said.
The party could not say by when it hoped the situation could be resolved. The end of a crisis could not be determined by a timeline, said Duarte.
The ANC, however, hoped for a “speedy end” to the acts of violence, she said.
‘These things spread so easily’
South African Human Rights Commission chairperson Jody Kollapen on Monday warned that police may be “stretched” in dealing with the xenophobic attacks in Gauteng.
Kollapen, speaking in Durban at a pre-launch event of the Durban Press Club at the International Convention Centre, said the government might have to seriously consider bringing in the army.
“My understanding is that the police are stretched,” he said, but warned that “calling in the army has all kinds of implications”.
Without some kind of resolution of the conflict, South Africans could take scant comfort from the images being presented in the media.
“We need to be careful. These things spread so easily to other communities.”
Kollapen expressed concern that while the police focused resources on the affected communities, those that had as of yet not been affected could find themselves without protection.
Asked if the attacks were being orchestrated, he said that he was not aware that there was intelligence pointing to that fact.
He believed the attacks were more “copycat” in nature and had been brought about because “the level of resentment towards foreigners is quite high”.
Kollapen said that South Africans viewed that which came from outside the continent in a positive light, while Africa was viewed in a negative light.
“You haven’t seen any attacks on Bulgarians, have you?”
He questioned the role of the media prior to the events that brought Gauteng into the international spotlight.
“By and large the media has portrayed immigration in a negative light,” he said, citing various headlines.
“What effect does this have on the psyche?” he asked.Â