Hate crime guidelines were not followed
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Durban - Clear guidelines on how to prevent further outbreaks of xenophobia were spelt out to the government by the SA Human Rights Commission in 2010, but few of the measures were introduced.
Experts say the government has failed to act effectively on recommendations compiled by the commission following the outbreak of attacks against foreigners in May 2008, which led to the deaths of 60 people, mainly in Gauteng.
Speaking in Durban this week, the Minister of Small Business Development, Lindiwe Zulu, said the government needed a more “cohesive” report.
“Let us have a task team now at national, provincial and local government level. Information is lacking from all the departments such as the police, Home Affairs, small businesses and the Department of Trade and Industry, and how all these are affected by the violence.”
She said the fact that South Africans resolved their issues by being violent and destructive must be investigated.
The authors of the commission’s 2009 report warned that in a country where racial categories still dominated the public imagination and victimisation of national minorities was the norm, xenophobia was believed to be “justified”.
They also stated that the government had responded to the 2008 incident by emphasising security measures in immigration management, rather than the fact that foreigners were protected under the constitution.
Professor Robert Peacock of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Applied Human Sciences, who specialises in criminal behaviour, said the Durban attacks had resulted not only from King Goodwill Zwelithini’s remarks, but a lack of political will to act on the commission’s 2009 recommendations.
“The poor quality response by our government to this is typical of their responses to all hate crimes. They shy away from calling this what it is - it is a hate crime,” he said.
Karthy Govender, a professor of constitutional law at UKZN, said the government had to take a “long look” at its responses to the report.
“Those who were involved in the 2008 attacks - were they brought to justice? I never heard of any cases,” he said.
Govender said the government’s lack of urgency in dealing with the recommendations of the report had sent a message that it was permissible to attack foreigners.
KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor Mary de Haas said the attacks were a symptom of “virtual anarchy”.
“There is definitely a degree of organisation, sophistication behind these attacks. They are not spontaneous. Who primed the king to say what he did?” she asked.
The commission report made recommendations to each national department, including the development of a national disaster management plan to deal with such future events by the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
The Department of Education was urged to incorporate issues of migration and xenophobia into the national syllabus. The Department of Home Affairs was to partner the SAPS to respond to early warning information or patterns of crimes against foreigners.
The Department of Justice was required to draw up best practice guidelines to make the most efficient use of resources in the judicial system if faced with a similar scenario.
Human Settlements was to adopt a management model for informal settlements and to raise awareness of policies with residents, particularly pertaining to the sale and rental of shacks and RDP houses. Social Development was to deal with the reintegration of foreigners in their communities.
Commission spokesman Isaac Mangena said he knew some of the recommendations had been carried out, but he could not confirm by which departments.