Will protect rights of our people: South African government

May 30th, 2008 - 6:24 pm ICT by admin  

By Fakir Hassen
Johannesburg, May 30 (IANS) Sending out a clear message to its security forces of zero tolerance of violence, the South African government has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting the rights of those who sought refuge within its borders or chose to live there. Amid calls for a state of Emergency to be declared in Gauteng province and displaced foreign nationals calling for UN intervention, the South African government has announced a five-point plan to deal with the aftermath of a fortnight of xenophobic violence in which locals set on other African migrants leaving 56 dead and hundreds injured.

Thousands of others were either returning to their home countries or are now in temporary camps.

The violence started three weeks ago when locals in the largely Black townships began attacking migrants from other African countries, accusing them of taking over jobs and housing intended for the locals.

Besides ensuring justice for victims of the xenophobic attacks through the establishment of special courts; working with civil society to ensure suitable accommodation for the thousands of displaced people; getting them medical treatment and care, food, blankets and clothing; and taking concrete steps towards alleviating the service delivery issues that had sparked the xenophobic attacks, a priority would also be the integration of the displaced people into the South Africa society, the government said in a statement Thursday following a cabinet meeting.

But the government was adamant that there was no need for intervention by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as plans were being put in place to deal with the issue. Opposition parties and some aid organisations have called for such intervention, with Somali refugees in a camp in Pretoria even embarking on a hunger strike to secure such intervention.

Reports of intimidation by Somali and Ethiopian victims in the camp comprising people from other African countries have also had the local municipality seeking government and foreign mission intervention to ensure that relief aid reaches the people. The Somali-led strike is aimed at getting them repatriated to other “safe” countries such as Canada, Britain or the US.

The government statement “noted that genuine concerns about access to services, such as water, roads and economic opportunities, are being exploited and misused to manipulate communities to attack our parents, brothers, sisters and children from South Africa, the African continent, and some parts of the world”.

The statement said the government would work very closely with all affected communities towards re-integration of foreign nationals back into communities as soon as possible.

“Some of the so-called foreign nationals have already obtained South African resident status or citizenship. Many of the so-called foreigners are married to, or living with South African partners and have children who are South African citizens by birth. For these new South Africans and many other foreign nationals, leaving the country is not an option, as they have made the choice that this is their country of choice.

“The government, together with the majority of South Africans, will protect this right and ensure that they can live in harmony in the country that prides itself on respecting human rights for all.”

“Our primary objective in this regard is to ensure that everyone, including foreign nationals, is protected from any criminal acts; to restore peace and stability; and to ensure that justice is meted out to all law breakers in the shortest possible time. Special Courts will be set up to speed up the prosecution of the perpetrators of the violence.

“The South African Police Service and the South African National Defence Force will remain on alert for as long as it is necessary to deal decisively with any outbreak of violence. The message to our security forces is clear: no violence will be tolerated.”

The South African government lauded the efforts of the people and relief organisations that have rallied to the assistance of the displaced people: “Although the events of the past few weeks have been disturbing, it has been encouraging to witness thousands of South Africans uniting to assist the victims of the violence either in their individual capacity or as part of community structures and religious groups. These actions give us much hope that South Africans are steadfast in their fight for the values that are contained in our constitution.”

The Gauteng and Western Cape provincial governments, which were hardest hit in the violence, are also at an advanced stage of setting up temporary shelters with the support of civil society organisations.

“The government accepts that the pace of service of delivery needs to be expedited to address the developmental needs of our communities. However, blaming and attacking foreign nationals is an unacceptable way of highlighting community concerns,” the statement continued, rejecting suggestions of a “third force” being behind the attacks.

“Although the most recent violent attacks started in Alexandra (in Johannesburg) and spread to parts of the (neighbouring) East Rand, northern parts of Johannesburg, and to a limited extent, to other provinces, it is too early to conclude that a ‘third force’ is necessarily behind the violence.

“South Africa is a signatory to the Geneva Protocol on Refugees which enjoins us to protect the human rights of citizens from other countries. The government calls on our citizens to expose and report all those who are instigating violence against foreign nationals and those South Africans who speak a different South African language,” the government appealed.

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