Durban - Crisis talks to calm the outbreak of xenophobic violence in umlazi were to continue today as the police and provincial government scramble to protect foreigners who have become the targets of community anger over access to business opportunities and jobs.
MEC for Community Safety Willies Mchunu’s spokesman, Kwanele Ncalane, said the talks, which started yesterday, were between the department, local area councillors, police, businesses, taxi associations and foreigners.
“This was a labour dispute that escalated and intensified. The MEC was there to try and find a way to reintegrate the foreign nationals and facilitate discussions among the affected parties,” he said.
He assured the foreigners they would be protected by government.
“We vehemently oppose the idea that these actions stem from anything his majesty (King Goodwill Zwelithini) might have said. Anybody who is using that (as a reason) is deliberately misunderstanding the message (cracking down on those here illegally),” he said.
eThekwini Municipality mayor, James Nxumalo, who was also present on Tuesday night, said it was “a crisis”. “We need to deal with it today. More than 170 people have become displaced,” Nxumalo said.
Police spokesman, Thulani Zwane, said foreigners from Dakota and Malukazi called the Isipingo police for help on Tuesday night because they feared for their safety. “The foreigners are still at the station.”
One hundred and seventy foreigners spent a second night sleeping in their cars and on the lawn of the police station.
Mchunu addressed various stakeholders at the Isipingo police station on Tuesday night.
Major-General Dumezweni Chiliza, the SAPS cluster commander, told Mchunu a supermarket and wholesaler in Umlazi was involved in a labour protest with workers since last year. He said the protesting workers were then fired and replaced with foreigners.
“On Monday at 4am police were notified that Ngini Road in Umlazi was barricaded with stones, rocks and burning tyres. The neighbouring community was part and parcel of the protest. They were upset because they were replaced by foreign nationals at work,” he said.
It is alleged that during the day protesters spotted a foreigner carrying a box of South African identity documents they claim were to be given to the new workers.
“The protesters advanced towards him. He ran towards the Isipingo central business district. About thirty people were chasing him. He ran towards a building occupied by other foreign nationals,” he said.
The house was near a taxi rank. The protesters began stoning the house and it became a fight between foreigners and locals.
Chiliza said the fight spread and the foreigners then ran to a second house.
“They (foreigners) retaliated with stones and bricks at locals. Stones and rocks hit five minibus taxis in the rank, damaging them. This triggered anger in the rank. The conductors and drivers allegedly joined the protesters. Police responded and escorted some of the foreigners to safety,” he said.
The mob assaulted foreigners and looted their shops.
During the incident it is alleged that a vehicle driving past a house rented by foreigners was shot at by unknown occupants in a car.
The bullet struck a wall. No one was injured.
Police said three foreigners sustained injuries.
Last night Mchunu met the displaced people and Nxumalo to chart the way forward.
Mchunu said they were looking at ways of relocating the displaced foreigners.
He said it appeared the foreigners involved were refugees and it was important to find accommodation guided by the international law for refugees.