BuaNews, 16 May 2008

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An inter-departmental task team is being urgently set up to investigate the causes underlying the recent attacks on foreign nationals in Alexandra township and elsewhere, Government Spokesman Themba Maseko said Thursday. He was briefing reporters on the outcome of the latest cabinet meeting, held on Wednesday. The task team will be led by the Department of Home Affairs and will include officials from the departments of Safety and Security, Social Development, Health, Education and the Presidency, Mr Maseko said. "In the meantime, the law enforcement agencies will use the full force of the law to ensure that no further violence takes place, and those who engage in, actively encourage and incite communities to attack foreign nationals must and will be brought to justice as soon as possible," Mr Maseko said. His comments came shortly before news reports early on Friday indicated that police arrested five people in Alexandra over sporadic incidents of violence, in the wake of suspected xenophobic attacks that have led to at least two people being killed. Underlying the seriousness with which the matter is being taken in South Africa, Parliament has scheduled a debate in the National Assembly on Friday, where MPs could discuss the attacks and the prevalence or otherwise of xenophobia in South Africa. On Thursday, Mr Maseko made plain government's disgust at the attacks. "This is an abnormal situation that is foreign to the consciousness of South Africans," he told reporters. Government would be maintaining a high visibility in the areas affected by the suspected xenophobic attacks, he said, in part also to show solidarity with the foreign nationals, who for a variety of reasons, had chosen to live in South Africa, Mr Maseko said. "South Africa is a signatory to the Geneva Protocol on Refugees and we will fulfill our obligations as outlined in this protocol," he told reporters Thursday. He added that Cabinet condemns these attacks "in the strongest possible terms" and calls on all South African communities to be vigilant in safeguarding their communities and all those who live in them. Noting that the attacks appear to be perpetrated solely against nationals of other African countries, Mr Maseko said: "It cannot be acceptable that foreign nationals who come from the continent are vulnerable [to xenophobic attacks] and other foreigners are not." He said that Cabinet had noted the hospitality provided to South Africans in exile during the "dark days" of apartheid, and their deep concerns at the current disturbing situation. "It is too soon to forget the hospitality that was given to South Africans who were in exile in neighbouring countries and the rest of the continent during the days of apartheid. "The support of the frontline states [the states surrounding South Africa, which provided refuge to anti-apartheid exiles and which themselves as a result became the targets of attacks by the apartheid war machine] in southern Africa was critical to the achievement of the democracy we are enjoying today," he said. There is as yet no time frame for the inter-departmental task team to report back on its findings but it is proceeding with urgency, he added.