Business Day, 21 May 2008

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Strong action against perpetrators of xenophobic violence and a moratorium on the deportation of undocumented migrants was the message of a high-powered security cluster delegation of government ministers to the Primrose Police station yesterday. The station has since Saturday provided refuge to people, predominantly foreigners, displaced by recent violence in nearby informal settlements. The delegation — which included ministers Charles Nqakula (safety and security), Ronnie Kasrils (intelligence), Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (home affairs), Ngconde Balfour (correctional services), and Gauteng MEC for safety and security Firoz Cachalia — met briefly with the Primrose police station commander and then addressed the foreigners gathered in the field opposite. “Our government is very worried about your situation. Nobody must be harassed in the manner in which you have been. We want to impose proper law enforcement to protect you,” Nqakula told the gathered foreigners. The unsheltered, dusty field, for many now their only home, was bleak — dirty blankets hanging on the fences, bits and pieces of belongings in random piles. There were only three portable toilets in sight. Police said that on Saturday night there had been thousands of people occupying the field but this had substantially diminished by yesterday. Nqakula promised the foreigners they would be moved to accommodation in “places that are habitable”, and with “very, very strong law enforcement”. He assured them, “You are protected here until we move you to another place.” Later Nqakula said the government had initially ascribed the attacks to xenophobia, but it became increasingly clear there was a very strong element of criminality. It was for this reason that the security cluster ministers had visited. “Our law enforcement is going to be very, very hard. We don’t want this kind of thing to spill over into other areas,” Nqakula said. T he government planned to increase police visibility by increasing the number of police deployed to the violent areas, and deploying specialised units. Law enforcement would focus on identifying ringleaders involved in criminality, and stopping looting and arson. The police have set up a provincial disaster centre and were making sure all the people displaced by the violence had three meals a day, at least one of which was a hot meal. Mapisa-Nqakula said aliens lacking documents would not be deported: “We cannot take advantage of people who find themselves in a state of vulnerability. SA belongs to all who live in it. Even undocumented migrants. We have an obligation to protect all migrants.” Mapisa-Nqakula referred to the fact that neighbouring states had provided refuge to many South Africans during apartheid. Also, she said, SA had been built on migrant labour. “We cannot be seen to be attacking people who have lived in SA for many years.”