Durban xenophobic looting by MK Vets condemned
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Durban - GROWING xenophobic sentiment in the province, which saw businesses owned by foreign nationals being shut down and looted in the Durban CBD yesterday, has been condemned by the South African Human Rights Commission, the ANC and the Africa Solidarity Network.
The eThekwini Municipality also condemned the violence and disruption to economic activity in the city.
Members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), who were joined by homeless people, went on the rampage, closing down foreign-owned businesses.
The group’s actions started on Monday when they evicted foreign traders who sell goods outside the Workshop Shopping Centre. In yesterday’s protest, a number of people were injured and some shops were also looted as the group made its way through the city centre.
Protesters clashed with the police after they fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse them.
Hair salon owner, Severin Pyalngu from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), said he was traumatised after more than 30 protesters stormed his premises and stole what they could, including customers’ belongings.
“Now I will have to start from scratch and I don’t know what to do,” he said Pyalngu, who has been in the country for more than 15 years, said he feared that this could be the start of xenophobic attacks like those seen in 2015.
“I am worried and I am not comfortable even to walk on the street. The homeless are attacking us at every corner and they are being used by the soldiers. Our lives are in danger.”
Zibuse Cele, MKMVA member and march co-ordinator, described their actions as a “clean-up” campaign.
Cele accused foreigners of taking jobs from locals and leaving South Africans hungry and in distress.
“The closure of their businesses will benefit all South Africans. This is not about us, we are fighting for the whole country. We want locals to enter all these shops and work.”
Another MK member accused the ANC of lacking leadership and said they did not have the interests of the people at heart.
Durban Metro Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Parboo Sewpersad said that the march was illegal. “They did not apply formally for the march and there was no written permission granted to them. The police advised us that they will arrest if needs be and give instructions,” said Sewpersad.
Provincial police spokesperson Thembeka Mbele said that Public Order Policing unit officers had been deployed to the CBD and no arrests had been made.
EThekwini Municipality spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the actions by the MK vets were criminal and the police should have made arrests.
“The police must not be soft on people who are breaking the law. They must do their work, arrest such people, get them prosecuted,” he said. He said the rule of law was being undermined.
“It can’t be accepted that people are attacked and shops are looted while no one is arrested. We don’t have a problem with people protesting, but they must do so within the parameters of the law.”
Daniel Byamungu Dunia, a Congolese refugee and secretary-general of the Africa Solidarity Network, said while the number of marchers was relatively small, their message reverberated broadly.
He said that if left unchecked, their message could lead to more serious acts and gain wider appeal. “It is wrong to target people from particular countries or label them as criminals, drug dealers or persons responsible for social ills. Law-enforcement agencies need to hold accountable anyone who instigates violence based on anti-migrant rhetoric and xenophobia.”
Nhlakanipho Ntombela, provincial ANC spokesperson, said the protests were not part of the ANC’s programme. “We are saddened by the incidents which transpired in eThekwini.
The ANC cannot be associated with such thuggery,” he said. Ntombela said the issues the protesters were raising were not issues affecting former freedom fighters. “We don’t know anything about what they are doing, it’s their own thing. Ask them what they are doing.”
The MKMVA in the province, chaired by Themba Mavundla, also distanced itself from the march.
Mavundla alleged that most of those behind the protest were not members of the MKMVA and they had a WhatsApp group called “MK Freedom Fighters” which they used to mobilise other members of the public.
“We distance ourselves from whatever these guys are doing because whatever they are doing, they are not doing it under the banner of the MKMVA. “They are actually a WhatsApp group called MK Freedom Fighters, not that they are representing MKMVA. Some of them might be members of MK, but a majority of them are not.”
South African Human Rights Commissioner Chris Nissen said the commission condemned the actions. “I think what they have done is illegal, it’s against our democracy and what we fought for,” said Nissen.
He added that during South Africa’s Liberation movement, uMkhonto we Sizwe members had been housed and protected in African countries. The commissioner said it appeared that the MK vets were now turning on people who had fled their countries because of their circumstances. “Today, the country’s policy on foreign nationals particularly asylum-seekers and refugees, is one that we do not put people in camps, we welcome them as our brothers and sisters,” he said.
A study, which looked at anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa, released recently by the Human Sciences Research Council together with market research partner, Ipsos, found that anti-immigrant sentiment was fuelled by the link that is made by the public between migration and social problems or jobs.
“Negative stereotypes about cross-border migrants and refugees are common in many towns and villages, with people describing these groups as violent and dishonest.” The study recommended that leaders and celebrities who had the trust of South Africans should embark on an awareness campaign to counter xenophobic beliefs.