CHILDREN ON TRIAL FOR XENOPHOBIC ATTACKS

Cape Argus, 4 June 2008

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Ten children are among the 306 people currently facing court charges related to the outbreak of xenophobic attacks in the province. The minors, whose ages were not given, are from Hermanus, George and Milnerton. They have been released into the care of their parents or guardians until their next court appearance. They face a variety of preliminary charges including theft, public violence, possession of stolen goods, assault and assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm. Director of Public Prosecutions Rodney de Kock said on Wednesday that three special courts had been set up, at Khayelitsha, Wynberg and Atlantis magistrate's courts, in an attempt to fast-track the 250 xenophobia-related cases in the province. Charges range from public violence to intimidation, assault and attempted murder. De Kock said some cases would be allocated to other court rolls, including the backlog court set up in Blue Downs but that the three special courts would deal with the bulk of the cases. Most of the 306 accused are still in custody. He said police had given him an undertaking that they would complete investigations by June 13. One case had been withdrawn in Strand magistrate's court last week, but police were investigating further and it was possible there would be a re-arrest. De Kock said all the cases would be regional court matters because of their serious nature. "The security of the state has been threatened as a result of these individuals." "These cases are not going to drag out forever. In order for this to happen, investigations need to be completed quickly, witnesses need to be found and victims need to be brought to court. Police have undertaken to locate all victims and are working with non-governmental organisations to ensure this," De Kock said. He has set a three-month deadline for finalising all cases. Meanwhile, Western Cape MPLs across the political spectrum attacked "a criminal element" in the community over the attacks, with opposition parties calling for reconciliation as part of the reintegration process. MPLs pointed out that while a minority had perpetrated the crimes, many others did their utmost to protect immigrants and to provide relief following the attacks. Introducing a debate on the refugee crisis on Tuesday, legislature Speaker Shaun Byneveldt said people should bear in mind how These included how the South African liberation movements benefited from support by other African countries and how the struggle was won with the backing of other Africans. DA MPL Shahid Esau called for a reconciliation process before immigrants could be reintegrated into communities. The UIF's Mzwandile Manjiya said a lack of understanding of the government's economic policies could have played a role in fuelling the violence. As pressure mounts for action at the safe sites where refugees have been temporarily housed, civil groups have once again called on the UN to heed pleas for assistance from those stranded in the camps. In at least two of the seven shelters set up by the City of Cape Town, refugees have spurned the help of the province and the city and are demanding the aid of the UN. A statement from these groups, which include the Black Sash, Aids Law Project, Cosatu and the Treatment Action Campaign, said: "It is imperative that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees play a mediating role among communities who are rightfully angry and traumatised. "Now without further delay the UNHCR must send officials to all safety sites and sites where people are demanding information, and offer their expert advice and assistance."