Government today outlined a multi-faceted plan to prevent any outbreak of violence against anyone, including foreign nationals in South Africa and further called upon all civic organizations, political parties, youth formations and the religious fraternity to work together.
This plan was presented at today's Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) meeting. The IMC was established to deal with threats of violence against foreign nationals. Chaired by the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, the IMC is comprised of several other ministers, including those of Home Affairs, Social Development, State Security, Basic Education, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Arts and Culture as well as International Relations and Cooperation.
Minister Mthethwa stated that security agencies are on high alert to ensure that threats and manifestations of violence against any individual or group are effectively addressed.
"Our security agencies are prepared to effectively deal with violence against anyone, including foreign nationals. We continue to monitor all and any threats. Should any be found to be credible, measures will be implemented immediately to prevent any outbreak of violence."
In the unlikely event of another outbreak of violence against foreign nationals, or violence of any other form, government will take appropriate legal measure to bring perpetrators to book.
According to some of the findings conducted by government, the locus of these tensions is mainly driven by criminal elements in areas where there are high levels of poverty and unemployment.
Minister Mthethwa noted: "There has been a proliferation of businesses owned by foreign nationals in the townships and informal settlements across all provinces. Furthermore, there is a sharp increase in anti-foreigner sentiment spreading from metropolitan cities and surrounding townships to smaller towns and rural areas across South Africa.
"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.
"In many instances, criminals are aided and abetted by locals, particularly the youth - thus given a license by some local businesses to loot and pillage foreign businesses. In many instances, criminals carry out armed robberies at these shops under cover of these tensions."
The IMC further noted that the most disturbing factor is the marked involvement of unemployed young people in this ghastly manifestation of discontent. The perception amongst foreign shop-owners is that law enforcement agencies fail to protect them. Thus, as a response, foreign-owned business owners resort to defensive measures to prevent looting of their shops.
It is a matter of common knowledge that some foreign nationals, particularly foreign nationals, do not register their presence in the country with relevant government institutions. Therefore, the integration of foreign nationals in society is crucial. This scenario leads to deep resentment and widespread tension.
Government's strategy, in partnership with various organs of civil society in proactively curbing and averting these threats, is outlined in a multi-faceted and integrated plan:
• Proactive facilitation of a societal dialogue: this has taken place at various areas around the country comprising of police, churches, community policing forums and NG0s. 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. It also needs to be noted that the 2008 attacks against foreign nationals never spread to areas within Soweto and this can largely be attributed to a critical role played by community policing forums.
• Extension of the 2010 FIFA World Cup National Joint Committee The swift policing and justice approach that was witnessed during the World Cup will be adopted and continued, to respond to this issue of attacks against any form of criminality. Quick investigation, tighter sentencing and law enforcement agencies will not hesitate to act speedily and decisively against anyone found to incite violent acts against foreign nationals.
• Strict monitoring of proliferation of businesses owned by foreign nationals and lack of regulation thereof
These trends have now shifted from communities and moved towards smaller towns and rural areas. Once they settle in these areas, they then get involved in the informal economic sector. Most of these foreign communities regard South Africa as a viable economic sector; and some of the types of businesses operated by these foreign nationals include small shops, cellphone repairs and hawking products.
• Review and derive lessons from the May/June 2008 incidents
Some of the reasons for this trend include that after the attacks of May/June 2008, some foreigners looked for safer environments. We will utilize all the lessons learnt during this period to inform our approach going forward.
• Reinforce civic education in society and within the law enforcement agencies: This is not a new phenomenon but speaks to our new‘re-skiling and cadre of cop' approach that the South African Police Service has already begun. Ensuring we have officers who defend the weak, uphold the Constitution and are committed to fighting crime. The same approach will be escalated by government across society.
• Development of a Government Communication Strategy
The IMC noted and adopted that with immediate effect, Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) will spearhead an effective and aggressive communication strategy to counter and mitigate the risk posed by the unbalanced media reports which still instill fear about possible attacks.
Government takes the threats of violence against foreign nationals seriously and the matter is receiving our highest priority. Government reiterates that any attacks are totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
"Working together united by our loyalty to the democratic constitution, single flag and a common nationhood we shall defeat the evils of hatred, intolerance and bigotry", concluded the Minister