STATE POLICY BLAMED FOR ALEX MAYHEM

Business Day/Sapa, 14 May 2008

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Poor service delivery, poverty, unemployment and the government’s lack of action on illegal immigrants is believed to have fed the recent spate of attacks on foreigners living in SA, according to civil organisations. Sunday’s attack on Alexandra residents, mostly from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, left one person dead and at least 60 injured, and resulted in nearly 1000 frightened foreigners taking refuge in Alexander police station, where they now sleep in corridors each night. Victims of the surprise xenophobic attacks, who were given food and toilet paper yesterday by the Red Cross and Auckland Park-based organisation Children of Fire, regaled tales of how they were told to go home before being robbed or beaten, and of attempted rape. Many fear going back to their homes, although police spokeswoman Const Neria Malefetse said the situation in Alexandra was “calm”. She conceded that the situation at the police station was not sustainable. In March, two foreigners were killed when a crowd attacked them and set their shacks alight in the Brazzaville informal settlement in Atteridgeville, Pretoria. Yesterday Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the National Assembly that she believed the attacks were the work of a “third force” stoking up resentment against foreigners in areas where people have lived together harmoniously for many years. However, both the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Institute of Race Relations said yesterday that one factor inciting violence was the government’s policy, which does not recognise the immigrant population. The Centre for Development Enterprises supported the view. Cosatu’s Gauteng secretary, Siphiwe Mgcina, said yesterday that the federation believed the underlying cause of the xenophobia was “intolerable levels of poverty, unemployment and crime, and the shortage of housing, in poor communities”. Mgcina urged the home affairs department to do more to assist immigrants and the City of Johannesburg to provide shelter for those “too scared to go home.” Mapeete Mohale of the Institute of Race Relations said it was not in SA’s interest to have an illegal immigrant population nearly as large as the white population , and that recognising them would see more regulation and control. He said the present attitude did not recognise that they were “significant consumers of South African products and services.” The Centre for Development Enterprises said research showed that more than half of Zimbabwean immigrants were skilled, and more than 30% had post-secondary education, suggesting they were bringing much-needed skills to SA’s economy, even if some are doing more menial tasks to get by. According to the centre’s Ann Bernstein and Sandy Johnson: “Immigrants of all skills levels have contributed significantly to SA’s economic success and could contribute so much more.” They believe the government is not facing up to the realities of an exodus to SA, with Mapisa-Nqakula remaining relatively silent while admitting that a “new approach” needed to be found instead of the costly detention and repatriation of immigrants.