Business Day, 26 May 2008

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Amid fears that the xenophobic violence which has claimed at least 50 lives could develop into an intra-ethnic conflict that could engulf the whole country, African National Congress (ANC) heavyweights fanned out across Gauteng yesterday to stem the tide of violence and restore stability in affected communities. ANC president Jacob Zuma led the party’s appeal in townships and informal settlements when he spoke to about 8000 people in Bakerton, an informal settlement outside Springs and a scene of unrest. Among those deployed to the townships were Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo- Ncguka, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and South African Communist Party boss Blade Nzimande. Communities responded positively to Zuma’s message of tolerance, but criticised the government’s failure to deliver services to the poor. Zuma said “peace and tolerance” should precede any discussion over unhappiness about the government’s tardy service delivery. He managed to contain his restive audience, winning them over with a promise to return. However, angry community members told the ANC leaders that while they would vote for the party, their continued support could not be taken for granted. “If you are a stumbling block, we are going to kick you away,” one Bakerton resident told Zuma. Community members who Ramaphosa spoke to in Orange Farm spoke of the desperate housing shortages, unemployment and crime. The ANC leaders condemned the violence against foreigners, saying communities should not take the law into their own hands. Though Gauteng was worst hit, the violence against foreigners spread to other provinces such as KwaZulu- Natal and Western Cape. Analysts say the violence could soon see members of different ethnic groups turn on each other. This concern was shared by Nzimande, who went to Etwatwa on the East Rand. “This violence is designed to start an intra-ethnic conflict,” he said. The ANC’s message was for everyone to work with the police. Nzimande said they urged foreign nationals not to form patrols exclusively made up of foreigners for fear that it could spark revenge and counterattacks. ANC deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise told residents that they should form street committees and organise themselves so that they could lobby the government. Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya, speaking to a crowd of about 200 at Raphela Secondary School in Orange Farm Extension 2, called for a return to the system of street and ward committees to maintain peace and raise concerns. “Before the 1990s we knew what was happening in our communities through the street communities. The ANC government cannot do everything, it needs it work through these kinds of committees so it can know what is going wrong." At the time the violence broke out Mlambo-Ngcuka was travelling in Africa trying to get countries to help with SA’s education crisis. “When the matter broke I was away, trying to engage with different countries who could help with our education crisis. I was saying, please can you help our students and let them come here to study, while TV was showing our people beating those from the country we were asking to teach our students," she said. The ANC’s initiative yesterday came after the government, especially the country’s intelligence agencies, came under fire from the ruling party and the opposition for failing to act timeously to prevent the carnage. “The ANC’s message to its structures is that it must work with anybody to contain this violence. This violence should not morph from xenophobia into broader ethnic cleansing,” ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said. He was speaking at ANC branches in Soweto as part of the campaign to stop the violence. In Soweto, local ANC leaders vowed to “defend” the community from attacks and have set up anti-xenophobia committees in order to galvanise people into action. “No one in this area will be evicted,” ANC member Stewart Ngwenya said. “From Cape to Cairo we are all Africans. Zulus, Shangaans, Xhosa s, Venda s. We are going to defend each other,” he said.