LEADERS DENY ATTACKS WERE XENOPHOBIC

Business Day, 17 May 2008

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Community leaders in Alexandra fingered for stoking the violence there this week maintain the attacks in the township were not fuelled by xenophobia, but by organised criminal gangs. They deny media reports that the attacks were planned at a meeting last Saturday — a day before mobs took to the streets screaming at Zimbabweans to leave, attacking foreigners and looting their homes. The Alexandra Community Policing Forum had a scheduled meeting on Tuesday, where residents had threatened to take “matters into their own hands” because the police had failed to remove foreigners from Alexandra. Thomas Sithole, chairperson of the forum, says it is “a well-known fact” that crime is a major problem in the area adjacent to the Alexandra hostel. “Housing problems, crime and unemployment are challenges faced by our community. Foreigners are blamed for that in a bid to deal with frustrations,” Sithole says. He says there are allegations that some Zimbabweans have benefited from RDP houses in Extension 7. Despite the fact that there had been a threat at the Community Policing Forum meeting — where police were present — to remove foreigners from Alexandra, police were caught off guard on Sunday night when an enraged mob descended on a hostel in London Road, beating immigrants and forcing them from their rooms. Within hours, two men were shot dead, one a South African who had refused to participate in the attacks. David Khumalo, a priest and leader of the Alexandra Residents Association says he would be “the first one to know of any community meetings.” He denies that there was a meeting to plan the attacks. “We have a problem with crime and we had a meeting a week before (the attacks) to discuss the problem,” Khumalo says. “There was no plan to attack anyone. “People should stop dividing our nation by saying Zulu hostel dwellers are behind this. “There is no such thing, this is a criminal activity.” Khumalo says he was asleep on Sunday night when he too was attacked and robbed of his TV and DVD player. Alexandra hostel induna Baba Mkhonza also denied that there was a meeting to plan Sunday’s attacks. “Like other residents in this hostel, I am very angry with the people who are telling lies about us,” he says. “This hostel caters for all nations, we cannot discriminate and we are living in peace. We are prepared to work with the police to bring perpetrators to book.” Alexandra was calm on Friday afternoon, with 720 victims of violence — 50 of them children — being cared for by the Red Cross at the police station. At midday, a prayer meeting was conducted by Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.