Sapa, 21 May 2008

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It was "highly unlikely" that a third force was behind the recent outbreak of xenophobic violence in Gauteng province, Institute for Democracy in SA researcher Steven Friedman said on Wednesday. "I think the problem with the idea of a third force is that it enables politicians and society to avoid the real issues," he said. "This [xenophobia] is nothing new... the idea that something is being stoked by some evil individual out of nothing is misleading." Friedman was commenting on assertions that there was a third force behind the spate of violence unleashed on foreigners in the last ten days. He added that the solution to the problem was not convoluted, but was rather quite simple. "Since we became a democracy the law, policy, everything has assumed that people from other countries are a drain on society but all the evidence is that they are actually a benefit. "The solution is not convoluted... people simply need to understand that foreigners are an asset and this needs political leadership," he said. There have been a number of theories about the root of the violent outbreak. On Wednesday, Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad hinted at right wing involvement in the unrest. "We need to understand that xenophobia has historically been used by right wing populist movements to mobilise particularly the lumpen-proletariat against minority groups in society. "Political mobilisation on the basis of xenophobia pose grave threats to progressive forces in our society and to our democracy." Asked by reporters, at an International Media Forum which he addressed, what he meant, Pahad replied: "All I'm saying is we need to be very careful ... it is easy to mobilise in this way with right wing agendas. The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) on Wednesday also said the spate of violence was politically motivated. "This is not just innocent violence," said MKMVA secretary Peter Ngubeni in Johannesburg. Ngubeni said that on the East Rand attacks seemed to mainly come from hostel dwellers. He said most foreigners did not live in hostels -- so there appeared to be some other reason why the dwellers there would be motivated to attack people with which they were not even in contact. Blaming the violence, which has left over 20 people dead and thousands displaced, on an ominous outside force "deflects from the fact that we [South Africans] have widespread negative attitudes toward foreigners, Friedman said. The same attitude was also prevalent in the "middle class people going on about how shocked they are [by the violence]", he said.