Criminality, other causes behind South African xenophobia: Jacob Zuma

June 1st, 2008 - 11:36 am ICT by admin  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, June 1 (IANS) Criminality and looting was telling a different story to that being portrayed in the media about the xenophobic violence of the past few weeks in South Africa, African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma has said. Zuma was addressing more than 500 almost exclusively South African Indian businessmen at a fundraising dinner in Lenasia, south of here, Saturday evening.

Reacting to a question on whether the xenophobia actions were a threat to the country, Zuma said investigations by the ANC in areas such as Mamelodi, near Pretoria, where Zuma earlier visited thousands of refugees who were being housed in camps, had indicated otherwise.

Zuma also said that when he had visited a camp at Boksburg, east of here, before coming to the fundraising dinner, he had also found something completely different.

“We went to a place where the volunteers working there said more than 90 percent of the people in the camp were South Africans, from other provinces of the country. The element of criminality or people who are trying to take by force the shelter of others, irrespective of whether they were foreigners or not, is just criminality and looting.

“I think this began to tell a story which is not generally known - that you are not just dealing with anti-foreigners, but under that kind of cover, people who do all sorts of things.”

“The ANC and other community leaders had actually moved in different areas, trying to establish what caused the attacks,” Zuma said.

“They had made a conclusion that what was coming out was criminality, more than anything (else). In fact, the ANC has moved from house to house, wanting to satisfy itself that the claim that there was a high level of xenophobia was actually correct; asking people about their attitude towards foreigners, and they found that the answer was totally the opposite, at least at Mamelodi.”

Zuma re-confirmed the government view that the situation which saw 56 foreign nationals killed, hundreds injured, and thousands returning to their home countries or being cared for in camps was under control.

Locals were reported to have turned on neighbours from other African areas, claiming they were taking over jobs and housing intended for indigent locals.

Giving examples of how South Africans and Mozambicans had lived, worked and suffered in the apartheid era side-by-side, Zuma said this raised suspicion about what was really behind the xenophobia: “There are reports which are still being investigated that there has been manipulation behind this in addition to the criminal element, which so far has been the dominant feature.”

“We have also worked together with the representatives of those countries from their embassies. In fact the Mozambican ambassador addressed the Mozambican (refugees in camps), explaining to them that it was not the policy of the government that it did not like Mozambique.”

Admitting that the lack of services in some areas, cited as a cause of the attacks, was a matter of concern that needed to be addressed, Zuma added: “That does not make you xenophobic and start fighting the foreigners. We cannot of course say that there are not those who have that feeling, but it is not as it is reported in the media.”

Zuma said the official policy and priority right now was to reintegrate the people who had been displaced from their homes into the community, rather than repatriation.

Zuma concluded that the violence was therefore not a “simple issue of xenophobia”.

Citing the examples where xenophobia occasionally flares up in even developed countries like France and Germany, Zuma concluded: “It is important for the citizens of our country to know that the issue of xenophobia is a global problem.”

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