XENOPHOBIA: GOVERNMENT FOCUS ON REINTEGRATION

Mail & Guardian/Sapa, 4 June 2008

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Reintegration of displaced xenophobia victims into the communities where they come from is the government's priority, Cabinet ministers and provincial politicians said on Wednesday. They were speaking in Cape Town at a media briefing on the recent wave of violence against foreign nationals. "We would not encourage anybody to leave South Africa," Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad said. He said that where displaced people want to return to their countries of origin, South African authorities will not do anything to stop them, and will help international organisations involved in this process. However, every effort will be made to reintegrate them into the communities from which they come, and this should be "our principal objective". This will be pursued humanely, sensitively and with vigour. Nor is there any question that the foreign nationals will be "ghettoised" in special living areas. Gauteng minister of local government Dorothy Mahlangu said her provincial executive met on Tuesday and agreed that the tent camps set up for refugees in the Johannesburg area should be gone by the end of July. For this reason, as the authorities put people into camps, they should simultaneously work on reintegration. Her department will audit the camps on Monday to find out who is there, and to inform people of the two-month time limit, and that they should work with the authorities to make reintegration happen. As to fears that the camps will lead to a mushrooming of shacks, she said: "The answer is a definite no." Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool said a provincial disaster declaration gazetted on Tuesday will expire after three months. The provincial government hoped within this time to make a major impact on reintegration, which has already begun in several communities, or on repatriation. There are over 18 000 refugees at camps and shelters around Cape Town. Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said the presidentially authorised deployment of the defence force to help police areas hit by the violence will end on Saturday. This does not mean that President Thabo Mbeki might not be asked for another deployment, because police are still investigating cases related to the violence and might have to raid certain areas. The troops have so far been used to help cordon off hostels targeted for police raids. Rejecting suggestions that intelligence agencies had failed to predict the violence, he said there had been "a few assessments in the past" indicating tensions in some communities related to foreign nationals and service delivery. However, the government could not react by simply throwing security forces into those areas to deal with the tensions, or flooding them with service delivery. What the government had not known was that the tensions would rise to the level they did, or that the violence would erupt on May 11. In the same way, though United States intelligence agencies had been aware that there were plans to attack the US, they did not know specifically that the September 11 2001 onslaught on the World Trade Centre was going to happen. Nqakula said a total of 59 people, including nine South Africans, had died in the xenophobia violence, and by Monday, a total of 1 436 people had been arrested.