Govt on the offensive to prevent xenophobic violence

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Pretoria - While threats of xenophobic violence flaring up after the World Cup remain just "rumours" government has gone on the offensive and developed a plan to prevent and deal with any outbreak of violence.

Detailing these plans to the media on Thursday, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Xenophobia, said state agencies were on high alert and ready to take steps to quell any violence or criminal acts.

"So far we have been dealing with rumours and people have unwittingly or wittingly assisted in fuelling the hysteria of an outbreak," the minister said.

However, law enforcement agencies will monitor the threats and if they were found to be credible, preventative measures would be put in place immediately.

Government had found that the "locus of these tensions" was mainly driven by criminal elements in areas where there were high levels of poverty and unemployment, Mthethwa added.

The minister noted there was an increase in the number of businesses owned by foreign nationals in the townships and informal settlements.

"This scenario of tensions between owners of businesses owned by locals and foreign nationals has spawned an ugly element of criminal involvement, exploitation and manipulation of the situation," he said.

In some instances criminals are helped by locals, particularly the youth, and given a licence by some local businesses to loot foreign businesses, Mthethwa added.

Government plans to address the threats of xenophobia through dialogue with police, churches, community groups and other forms of civil society.

"Communities need to blow the whistle against any criminals that are disguised behind xenophobia. Government has always and will always discourage covering up for criminals by community members," Mthethwa said.

The swift police action seen during the World Cup will be extended once the tournament ends and will be adopted to deal with the possible attacks and other criminal activity.

"Quick investigation, tighter sentencing and law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to act speedily and decisively against anyone found to incite violent acts against foreigners, the minister said.

Government is also expected to monitor and regulate businesses owned by foreign nationals more closely.

Mthethwa said government would go over the lessons learnt after the outbreak of xenophobic violence in 2008 and be guided by these lessons going forward.

Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) is also expected to get involved and implement civil education programmes, communicating messages of cohesion and unity to the public.

The minister said similar efforts that went into mobilising the country to get behind the World Cup would be invested in educating the public on xenophobia.

He said it made no sense for South Africans to carry out any xenophobic attacks especially since just a week ago they were supporting Ghana.

"You can't support an African country and then a week later you change and you don't want the people you supported. It's illogical," Mthethwa said.

Police will be deployed when government believed there was a need for the deployment, he added.

State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele said it was possible that a "small group of instigators" were fuelling the rumours of xenophobic attacks.

"We are aware of that and have information to that extent," he said.

But Government was not taking any chances.

Deputy Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said government was taking the rumours very seriously because it did not want the rumours to end up a "self-fulfilling prophecy".

"We have hosted a successful World Cup. These rumours are trying to steal that victory from our hands and we will not allow it," he said.