CRIME AND POVERTY BLAMED FOR ATTACKS ON FOREIGNERS

City Press, 17 April 2008

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Spiralling crime and poverty have been blamed for the recent wave of attacks on foreign nationals in Gauteng. But government's foreign policy on Zimababwe, police's ill-treatment of immigrants and department of Home Affair's inefficiency were seen to be fuelling the problem. In recent weeks, Mozambicans and Zimbabweans were attacked in Diepsloot, Atteridgeville, Laudium and Soshanguve. In one incident, a nine-year-old girl was burnt alive during what was believed to be a xenophobic attack in Mamelodi. In Atteridgeville, Tshwane, two Zimbabwean nationals were killed when a mob burnt their shacks in separate incidents. Scores of businesses owned by foreigners were also set alight. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), who went on a fact-finding mission in Atteridgeville, said poverty and racism were reasons behind the attacks. "This is really a fight for resources," said Vincent Moagi, spokesperson of the commission. Moagi noted more members of the police needed training on issues of xenophobia. The commission called on South Africans to respect the rights of foreign nationals. Opposition parties, on the other hand, blamed the way the country was handling the situation in Zimbabwe. DA leader in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, said Mbeki's "silent diplomacy" on Zimbabwe was causing an influx of Zimbabweans into the country. These immigrants ended up being victimised by "frustrated" citizens, who reckon they are "stealing" their economic opportunities. "People take out their frustrations on foreigners because they are easy targets," he said. Bloom also argued that competition for resources was the main reason behind the attacks. The attacks have received widespread condemnation from civil society organisations. Head of People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASOP), Braam Hanekom, said police's ill-treatment of the foreign nationals and the department of Home Affair's lack of capacity to document immigrants, aggravated the problem. He noted that police were arresting foreigners for being undocumented, instead of arresting their attackers. "Police blame foreigners for crime," he said. Hanekom said government had to step up its efforts to help African economies to enable some immigrants, especially Zimbabweans, to return home. Meanwhile, the African National Congress (ANC) in Gauteng said some of the attacks could not be declared xenophobic, but clashes between community members. Spokesperson Ned Kekana said the party was still investigating the causes of the attacks. "We don't want to jump into conclusions that they were xenophobic attacks. However, we will never condone our communities to attack people based on their nationality," he said.