Business Day, 22 May 2008

PLEASE NOTE: Readers wishing to reproduce and reference this article
should contact the editors of the Business Day for permission

Up to 30000 people were now displaced in Gauteng as a result of the recent violent attacks, Bishop Paul Verryn of the Central Methodist Church said yesterday. He was speaking after a meeting of the Solidarity Peace Trust in Braamfontein. He said the violence was spreading beyond what could reasonably be called “xenophobic attacks”. He said it was common knowledge that South African Tsonga people had been also targeted. Verryn had attended a meeting organised by the South African Council of Churches (SACC), where between 60 and 70 church leaders met to discuss the crisis. Jodi Kollapen, chairman of the South African Human Rights Commission, and Nomboniso Gasa, acting chairwoman of the Commission for Gender Equality, were also present. Verryn said although he did not think it was an entirely orchestrated campaign, he did believe, based on testimony of his colleagues working on the ground, that some police and councillors were involved in stoking the attacks. Police spokesman Supt Govindsamy Marimuthoo denied these allegations. He said: “We welcome anyone who has evidence of this to come forward, and we will investigate it. That evidence will be tested in court.” Verryn said the attacks were “too targeted and too accurate to be just a xenophobic kick into space”. At the meeting, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said the attacks in Alexandra were “clearly targeted”. Verryn said another clergyman had seen two people in Carltonville being paid to commit acts of violence on the East Rand, and then being “chaperoned” by the police. He also said the attacks were planned. His church had received a phone call saying: “We know there are Zimbabweans there and we are coming to kill them.” “What carries it,” he said, “is a growing sense of dissatisfaction among the poor. Access to employment is getting harder; access to education is getting harder and harder. The disparities in our society are impossible.” Dr Emmanuel Nyakarashi, the co-ordinator of the Refugee Ministries Centre, who also attended the meeting, said that before the ANC national conference in Polokwane, he was told by “a community leader” that, after the conference, “all the foreigners are going to be kicked out”. Dr Andre Bartlett, chairman of the Gauteng provincial council of the SACC, said people should be wary of a simplistic explanation. The root was neither xenophobia nor criminality only. The church hoped to facilitate a national dialogue on the issue. Short-term solutions were discussed at the meeting, to be taken forward to the SACC national executive committee meeting next week. In the long term, Verryn said, a “huge campaign” was needed to change attitudes.