Army moves in amid xenophobia rumours

By Sibusiso Nkomo

The army was deployed to back up police in Du Noon on Tuesday in a joint anti-crime operation residents said had to do with persistent rumours of an outbreak of xenophobic violence after the World Cup.

"At the moment, we cannot tell the public what the operation is about, but we can confirm that the army has been deployed," national police spokeswoman Sally de Beer said.

Du Noon was the epicentre of xenophobic violence in the Western Cape in 2008.

In a show of force, the army and police went into Du Noon with Casspirs and searched house-to-house.

Residents said they had been told the show of force was to demonstrate that the authorities would not stand for any xenophobic violence in the area or anywhere else in the country.

A Casspir was stationed at Du Noon overnight to monitor the area.

This came as the Nelson Mandela Foundation said on Tuesday that it was concerned by the rumours of xenophobic violence.

"We cannot blame other people for our troubles. We are not victims of the influx of foreign people into South Africa.

"We must remember that it was mainly due to the aggressive and hostile policies of the apartheid regime that the economic development of our neighbours was undermined," Achmat Dangor, the chief executive officer of the foundation, said.

Earlier police said two South African shop owners at Bloekombos were arrested on suspicion of instigating attacks on rival Somali shopkeepers in the informal settlement near Kraaifontein, which also bore the brunt of the 2008 xenophobic violence.

Police spokesman Andre Traut confirmed that the two men and three other suspects were arrested last week on three charges of attempted murder, two charges of arson and one charge of conspiracy to commit crimes.

On Tuesday the Daily Voice reported that there was xenophobic violence in Bloekombos after four men were arrested. The suspects claimed they had been paid by local shop owners to attack the Somalis.

Gavin Silber, of the Social Justice Coalition, said: "We are discouraging xenophobia through education. The state has to take this seriously. Society has a short memory; this is how it started two years ago. The city and province must step in and be ready."

Police Ministry spokeswoman Joy Motubatsi confirmed that the interministerial committee for xenophobic violence set up by the cabinet and headed by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa was still to meet.

Mayoral committee member for Safety and Security councillor JP Smith said the provincial government was the lead agency against xenophobic violence and would take care of pre-emptive work in the Western Cape.

"The city is ready to react. Attacking other people incurs costs and the city paid R147 million to house, feed and protect dispossessed people in 2008. We had to use rates money to cover those costs," Smith said.

The city and province had heard about the rumours four months ago and had decided to act.

Hildegard Fast, from disaster management in the provincial government, was heading the anti-xenophobia campaign.

Fast said the provincial disaster management plan for 2010 took into account possible xenophobic violence.

"The main strategy is to investigate, verify and confirm the rumours of xenophobic violence. We can only act on verified reports and we are in constant contact with SAPS," she said.

Police would take preventtive action where necessary.

Xenophobia was not only a government issue but involved the whole of society.

"We need regular engagement with civil society and (the community). Government needs help and people should not panic," she said.

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