DURBAN - Barely hours after a national action plan to combat racial discrimination, xenophobia and ethnic intolerance was launched, at least 150 foreign nationals living in an informal settlement in Clare Estate, near Durban, had to grab what they could and run to safety.

Early yesterday morning, a group of men went to the Burnwood Road informal settlement, sought out foreign nationals and told them to leave.

In the pouring rain, the group, including two women with babies, fled to the Sydenham police station just after 3am.

According to Hassan Sanram of Malawi, they were asleep when they heard loud crashing noises. “We were chased away because we are foreigners. Some of us were hit and kicked and they started breaking our homes,” he said.

Sanram said they were also robbed.

The group said they were told that locals were acting on the instruction of President Cyril Ramaphosa who, during the ANC’s January 8 statement, warned there would be a clampdown on illegal businesses owned by foreigners and those who were in the country illegally.

Presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko said anyone using the president’s statements to incite violence was opportunistic and malicious. “He was articulating the position of the governing party that its manifesto says stringent measures must be taken against undocumented immigrants involved in criminal activities in the country or in cross-border crimes,” she said, adding this was not a call for anyone to instigate violence in the president’s name.

Africa Solidarity Network secretary-general Daniel Dunia condemned the attack.

“Many who spoke to me said they were acting on the instruction of President Cyril Ramaphosa who they say called for a clampdown on foreign-owned businesses and those without correct documentation,” he said.

Refugee Social Services director Yasmin Rajah said a team from the centre had gone out to assess the situation.

“It is very sad that this was happening, and people need to be educated. You find that many times, statements are made that foreign nationals come to steal jobs and those statements are passed off as facts. All people living in South Africa are protected by our Constitution and Bill of Rights,” she said.

Rajah said the situation needed to be properly evaluated.

“If there are instances where people are working illegally or running businesses illegally, then government needs to step in. It is not for anyone to take the law into their own hands,” she said.

On Sunday, shops owned by foreign nationals in Kenville, near Greenwood Park, were looted. A 22-year-old man was shot and died at the scene.

EThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede said the attacks would not be tolerated.

“We will not hesitate to act against criminal activities or against those who are inciting violence,” she said.

Gumede said metro police and the SAPS had been deployed to the settlements to restore calm. 

THE MERCURY