Police Minister Fikile Mbalula greets senior police officers and anti-crime activists as he arrives at the Sunnyside police station in Pretoria for his Mandela Day service on Tuesday. PHOTO: Jonisayi Maromo/ANA

Pretoria - Police Minister Fikile Mbalula on Tuesday said he had directed his deputy, Bongani Mkongi, to correct his recent remarks regarding the prevalence of crime and foreign nationals in Johannesburg.

"I've gone through what he said, and indeed, that is too rough. I do understand what he said. He was trying to address a problem in Hillbrow ... Do you remember what Herman Mashaba said and we came down on him? We cannot say that. We must do what the law permits," Mbalula said as he addressed journalists during a visit to the Sunnyside police station in Pretoria where he did his annual Mandela Day service.

"Those [people] who are illegal, we must get them out. Those who are there as immigrants, they are fine. They must stay there. We cannot have an attitude that they are not supposed to be here. It is problematic and that statement [by Mkongi] is regrettable."

Mbalula said he had discussed the matter with Mkongi, and the deputy minister would be amending his remarks soon.

"The deputy minister and I have agreed that he will issue a statement, explaining that his comments, whilst they were meant for a good purpose, could actually be misused to attack our African brothers. That statement borders on xenophobia."

On Monday, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) strongly condemned the "irresponsible" utterances by Mkongi.

While addressing concerns around crime and hijacked buildings in Johannesburg on Friday, Mkongi reportedly said South Africans had surrendered their city.

"How can a city in South Africa be 80% foreign national? That is dangerous. South Africans have surrendered their own city to the foreigners," Mkongi was quoted as saying.

The SAHRC said such remarks had the potential of fueling anti-immigrant sentiments and were, in fact, xenophobic. 

"South Africa is already grappling with the scourge of violent xenophobic attacks, often directed against fellow African non-nationals. As a figure of authority in the department of police - and by extension across society - the deputy minister is expected to exercise a great deal of circumspection in his public utterances. Not only are the statements factually incorrect, in that he claims, without evidence to the effect, that 80 percent of the city is occupied by foreign nationals, they also unjustifiably ascribe crime to foreign nationals as an undifferentiated group," said the SAHRC in a statement.

"Leaders are expected to constructively shape public debate and social cohesion through evidence-based statements. Repeating stereotypes does not advance the goals of upholding the fundamental rights of all in society."