Africans blew whistle – cops say messages ‘had no substance’

Sunday Times 08 September 2019

Statistics show that foreigners – both legal and illegal – account for just 7% of SA’s population, with more than 400,000 deported between 2010 and 2017.

Yet, despite the UN estimating that only 4-million immigrants live in the country, perceptions of SA being awash with foreigners stealing jobs, peddling drugs and committing crimes are on the rise.

Xenophobic violence gripped Gauteng this week, with 11 killed and many businesses destroyed as thousands went on a looting rampage.

Police say that of those killed, only seven had been linked to the violence, which police spokesperson Brig Mathapelo Peters attributed to “opportunistic criminality”.

Questions have been asked as to why police crime intelligence failed to predict the attacks and whether warnings given to police management were ignored.

Africa Diaspora Forum head Vusi Sibanda said it had given multiple warnings to senior police management in August.

The warnings, he said, were sent via WhatsApp to the deputy national commissioner, Fanie Masemola, and the provincial police management.

But police spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo said the warnings from the forum were “no different from the multiple messages that were being circulated on several social media platforms, including WhatsApp and Twitter”.

“Such messages were indeed followed up and found to have no substance.”

He said the violence which erupted this week was spontaneous and stemmed from a flat that was burnt by a jealous lover.

“This is not a situation which the intelligence environment could have anticipated.

“Due to rapid intelligence gathering when the violence erupted, over 90 people were arrested within hours.

“It was also purely due to intelligence that we were able to contain violence within the trucking industry as well as arrest over 20 suspects in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The fact that most of the victims are South Africans rules out the notion of these incidents being related to anti-foreigner sentiments.”

In August, communities were mobilised by the Sisonke People’s Forum, which distributed flyers spurring people into action.

Forum chairman Zwelie Ndabe said: “Since 2016 our pleas to government have been ignored. We are tired of our kids dying from drugs sold by foreigners, South African businesses employing foreigners, and of foreigners hijacking buildings for human trafficking and prostitution.

“That’s why we mobilised. We didn’t expect people to be this angry, and the violence disturbs us, but we won’t stop mobilising.”

Earlier this year the All Truckers Federation was accused of orchestrating attacks on foreigners driving trucks, which saw the N3 highway shut down. Twelve drivers, including South Africans, were killed.

Stats SA data shows that in 2011 there were 2.2-million immigrants in SA, dropping to 1.6-million in 2016.

The Migration Data Portal, using UN statistics to examine global migration trends, says that in 2017, 4-million immigrants were in SA.

The home affairs department, in its 2017 white paper, said 400,000 foreigners were deported between 2010 and 2017 and that between 2013 and 2018, 26,573 asylum seekers were granted refugee status.

The department could not provide figures on the number of foreigners in SA.

The backlash against SA for the xenophobic violence holds severe implications for the country, with economist Azar Jammine warning it could harm investment.

Several South African businesses operating in Nigeria have been attacked, several African countries have issued travel warnings and cancelled attendance at the World Economic Forum meeting in Cape Town. Zambia and Madagascar have cancelled soccer matches with Bafana Bafana, while Nigerian musicians Burna Boy and Tiwa Savage have pulled out of music festivals in SA.

“Given a third of our manufactured goods are exported into Africa, it will complicate our regional trading relations,” Jammine said.

Wits Centre for Migration senior researcher Jean-Pierre Misago said the effect of the violence was already being felt.

“With countries issuing travel advisories, business and tourism will be affected. Every time this violence breaks out, South Africans who let property to foreigners die, lose their businesses and property.”

He said the danger was growing when groups were deciding who could live and work where, and who had the right to life.

“While in past the violence was localised just against foreigners, South African businesses employing foreigners are now being targeted.

“The situation is complicated by the lack of governance and the delayed reaction to the violence. Despite repeated warnings of the violence, police were seemingly slow to respond.” He said SA was at risk of becoming a pariah state.

“What happens when those attacks shift to universities, medical institutions and international agencies employing migrants? Government must act before it’s too late. Government must target the root causes, which are unemployment and poverty.”

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