INNER CITIES A ‘POWDER KEG’

Business Day, 28 May 2008

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SA’s inner cities are powder kegs for xenophobic violence that could quickly get out of control, says Andrew Schaefer, CEO of residential property managers Trafalgar. He says Trafalgar warned of xenophobic violence in SA’s urban areas 18 months ago. The group has briefed its managers, has emergency phone lines ready and is “watching closely”, says Schaefer. “We don’t expect major incidents, but we can’t be too careful. The biggest problem is how to control violence in the small spaces of a building once it gets started. “The key is to respond with quick, vigorous, zero-tolerance riot control to any incident with the support of the South African Police Service and our own security people. That’s what we plan to do.” Schaefer says there have been two minor incidents in its entire portfolio around SA, and both occurred in Johannesburg. Flat tenants were attacked in a small block in Jeppe, and a group of people arrived at a Hillbrow property asking security if there were foreigners living there. Meanwhile, Neil Gopal, CEO of commercial property association Sapoa, has spoken out against xenophobia, saying the property industry “wishes to add its voice to those of other concerned business leaders and condemn the violence unfolding in SA”. “We call upon our national and provincial leaders to come into the townships, informal settlements and city neighbourhoods that have been hit by violence,” he said. “We call upon the police to work with civil society to defuse and pre-empt mob attacks against those who are helpless to defend themselves and their property,” says Gopal.