Violence in SA is false alarm says Zuma

zuma_jacobJOHANNESBURG - Senior South African government officials have once again pleaded with frightened foreign nationals to stay put in the country, after pledging protection from the countrys security agencies.

Thousands of African migrants, mostly from neighbouring Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, left the country after an attack on small business operators in the Western Cape last Sunday. The exodus is continuing as people fear being caught up in a repeat of the May 2008 violence, which claimed at least 62 lives, created thousands of displacements and saw the looting and destruction of millions of rands worth of property.

However, South African President Jacob Zuma and Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa insinuated this week that those who had fled their homes had fallen for a false alarm, dismissing the Western Cape incident as works of opportunistic criminals riding a rumour that gathered momentum towards the end of the World Cup.

From the information we have received, it was boys aged between 13 and 17 who went around demanding that shop-owners give them goods for free, threatening to bring mobs to attack them if they did not and that caused a lot of panic among many people who already believed that there would be xenophobic attacks after the World Cup, Zuma told state television late this week.

So far, we do not have any strong evidence linking these attacks with xenophobia or indicating that there might be anything worse than what we have seen so far. However, as government, we are asking people to come and report to us if you have any evidence of renewed threats against you or anyone you know, and we will deal with the culprits.

Mthethwa, who also chairs a parliamentary committee appointed by Zuma to look into the possibility of xenophobia rearing its head again, warned people against turning the rumour into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The way people and the media continue to talk about this xenophobia is our biggest worry at the moment because they give it credence even where the threat is not real, said the police minister, who recently described reports about the violence, as both untrue and disingenuous.

He nonetheless said that police would now focus their attention on providing maximum security to the citizens of the country, regardless of where they came from, adding that they would deal with anyone inciting violence against any select group of people.

Threats were reported to have lessened in Johannesburg, with even those foreign nationals living in the sprawling suburbs of Alexandra and Diepsloot reporting business as usual on Thursday afternoon.

Before the end of the World Cup, they were threatening to burn us alive if we did not leave their country, but things are normal now and there seems to be a new unity, with some locals even speaking against the violence and threatening to deal with anyone who will do what they did in the Western Cape, said a Zimbabwean who lives in Alexandra, where the violence began two years ago.

However, there were some Zimbabweans who said that they still felt uneasy and would leave at the earliest alarm.

The smaller formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, recently expressed fear that the South African government would not be able to control the violence once it began.

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