Pretoria - South Africa’s Constitution protects the rights of all people living within the country, South Africans and foreign nationals alike, says President Jacob Zuma.
Speaking at the 25th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of State Summit on Sunday, President Zuma said South Africa is also a signatory to various international obligations that protect foreign nationals and refugees, including the Geneva Protocol on Refugees.
He was giving a report to the Summit on the South African Government’s response to the attacks on some foreign nationals in parts of Durban and Johannesburg in South Africa, in April this year.
He reiterated that the attacks which took lives of seven people, of which three of them were South Africans, were shameful and violent.
“As South Africa we take our obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights very seriously,” he told delegates.
He told the summit that South Africans expressed their horror and condemnation through various actions including peace marches and media campaigns to promote peaceful coexistence and tolerance.
“We trust that this commendable stance by the South African people in their thousands, shattered the stereotype that South Africans are intolerant, specifically against fellow Africans or that South Africans are xenophobic.
“South Africans are not xenophobic. We do not believe that the actions of a few out of more than 50 million citizens justify the label of xenophobia,” he said.
He reminded the leaders at the Summit that South Africa has been home to African nationals for decades, even during the period of apartheid.
“They have lived with their brothers and sisters in townships and villages of this country without any problems. South Africa continues to be a multicultural society that welcomes and promotes interaction among people of different backgrounds.
“It is not surprising therefore, that the majority of those who had been displaced by the violence have returned to the communities they lived in and they have been accepted back. We have repeated the message to our people that there can be no justification for the attacks, regardless of the grievances that have been expressed by some South Africans,” he said.
He informed the summit that some of the issues raised have related to an increase in the number of illegal and undocumented immigrants, illegal trading, allegations of crime as well as competition for jobs and social services.
These are matters, he said, that are of concern to government and action is being taken to strengthen controls so that it minimises any possible causes of tensions between citizens and foreign nationals from the continent and beyond.
He said a more comprehensive action from government and citizens will ensure that there is no recurrence of the attacks.
“In the long term, we have to address the underlying causes of the violence and tensions, which is the legacy of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our country and our continent and the competition for limited resources.
“Our actions have gone beyond condemnations. As such, we have taken critical interventions to bring an end to attacks and to look for a lasting solution,” said the President.
He said the critical interventions include the immediate response to the outbreak of the violence which was the establishment of the National Joint Operational centre (NATJOC) to coordinate the government-wide response to the situation; an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) was established to deal with all relevant issues including immigration, social issues, law enforcement and humanitarian support. This committee continues its work of coordinating government’s response.
The President said interventions also comprise shelters that were set-up to accommodate displaced foreign and African nationals and basic amenities such as water, sanitation, and healthcare were provided. The government is working closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF as well as non-governmental organisations to provide food, psycho-social and other support to those affected.
He said the majority have returned to their communities and have been accepted back. Those who wished to return to their countries of origin were also assisted.
“Our law enforcement agencies have acted decisively and those who are involved in acts of violence were arrested and charged and investigations are continuing. We held meetings with organisations representing foreign and African nationals in South Africa and also convened a stakeholder engagement meeting on migration in the quest for solutions.
“These were very informative and constructive meetings and there shall be ongoing discussions in the quest for solutions. Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Premiers held consultative meetings with communities nationwide to hear their concerns and views. We also held a series of consultative meetings with Ambassadors and High Commissioners from African countries accredited to South Africa,” he said.
The President said the South African Parliament went into recess to enable members to visit constituencies. Parliament has also established an adhoc committee that is looking into the challenges of migration.
“We held a highly successful Africa Month programme in May 2015 nationwide promoting our African identity, unity and peaceful coexistence. Colourful and educational events were held around the country and were attended by both citizens and nationals from other sister countries in the continent supported by massive media campaigns,” he said.
To further promote the African identity, President Zuma said children in all schools are learning to sing the AU anthem. The AU flag will also be flown in all government buildings. We have urged the private sector to also fly the AU flag alongside the South African flag.
“We have a responsibility to protect all in our country and to rid South Africa of crime. We have thus launched a successful anti-crime campaign, Operation Fiela, focusing on drug and human trafficking, hijacking, illegal firearms and other serious crimes. Through the operation we have scored successes,” said the President.
He said police, supported by the army, have recovered illegal firearms. They have rescued children who have been victims of trafficking and have also pounced on drug making dens.
He said Operation Fiela targets all who are involved in crime and in fact, the majority of those arrested thus far are South Africans.
“Rumours that Fiela is an anti-foreign national campaign are not true. We are fighting crime to protect all in our country, citizens and nationals of other countries. To find long term solutions, we will develop and release a new International Migration Green Paper, for public comment in early 2016,” he said.
He said the new policy will take into account the recent experiences and ensure that no loopholes create conditions for a possible outbreak of violence.
“Working together we will find solutions to the challenges that face our continent, including migration,” he said. - SAnews.gov.za