Sisulu, SAPs call urgent meeting in Pretoria to address xenophobic attacks

Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Lindiwe Sisulu. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

Rabat — International relations & co-operation minister Lindiwe Sisulu and the SA Police Service are to hold a second emergency meeting with African ambassadors on Friday after a new spate of attacks on foreign nationals.

Sisulu said at a media briefing on Monday — which followed an urgent meeting with the diplomatic corps in Pretoria — that the government had worked on a plan to respond to the attacks, and that they would meet again to discuss them.

While SA’s leaders maintain that the attacks, which led to about 300 people being displaced in KwaZulu-Natal, are acts of criminality, the Democratic Republic of Congo ambassador Bene M’poko said at the media briefing that it was important to distinguish between criminality and xenophobia.

The comments came as President Cyril Ramaphosa said  in a statement on Monday that “criminals” hurt the country’s development.

As the attacks on foreign nationals resurge in SA, Pope Francis used a visit to North Africa to plead against “theatres of violence, exploitation and abuse” of migrants and refugees.

The pope encouraged host countries to “appreciate and utilise the contribution made by migrants, while working to forestall all forms of discrimination and xenophobia”.

“The side of the border on which a migrant stands does not make him or her more or less human,” he said.

Speaking at an aid centre for migrants in the Moroccan capital of  Rabat at the weekend, Francis slated those who are blind to the suffering of others.

“How arid and inhospitable a city becomes once it loses the capacity for compassion. A heartless society — a barren mother.”

Anti-immigrant rhetoric

The pontiff’s comments come at a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric is on the rise around the world and in political messaging ahead of the May 8 elections in SA. outh Africa.

ANC leaders and Ramaphosa have promised a clampdown on undocumented foreigners, while the DA is advocating tighter border control. Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has been accused of fuelling xenophobia.

On the campaign trail in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend, Ramaphosa moved to counter a spate of attacks on foreigners in the province. Dozens of people were displaced after they were assaulted and chased out of their homes in informal settlements in Durban.

Speaking at an ANC fund-raising dinner on Friday, Ramaphosa called on South Africans to be tolerant and be open to living side by side with people from other nations.

“These recent attacks are wrong, they violate everything that our people fought for over many decades. As for me, I condemn them in the strongest terms, because this is not us.”

On Ukhozi FM on Saturday, Ramaphosa said attacks on other Africans were due to criminality not xenophobia. eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede made similar statements in a press released on Friday.

“A few days ago we found out that it’s us South Africans who are attacking foreigners. That portrays us as a country that does not want to be part of other African countries. Because it shows the rest of the world that there’s xenophobia in SA outh Africa and that’s not true. There’s no xenophobia in this country,” said Ramaphosa.

KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders have moved to explain Ramaphosa’s statements during his January 8 speech after some of the victims of the attacks claimed the attackers told them they were acting on instruction of the president. Ramaphosa said at the time then that businesses owned by foreigners who were in the country illegally would be closed.

But locals have reportedly sought out foreigners to chase them out of their homes. Some women with babies sought refuge at the Sydenham police station after fleeing their homes in the rain in the middle of the night.

Speaking in Rabat, the pope said particular attention should be paid to vulnerable migrants such as women and children. He said it was essential to guarantee everyone the right to the medical, psychological and social assistance needed to restore their dignity.

The issue of health care for foreign nationals has also become topical in SA. outh Africa. Treatment and support for migrants is one of the main issues of focus during the pontiff’s first visit to the Maghreb region of North Africa.

Addressing thousands of people at an official ceremony hosted by King Mohammed, Francis said: “The issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families.”

This was supported by the king, who said he had instituted a new immigration and asylum policy in Morocco to ensure the dignity of migrants.

Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita said in an interview before the pope’s visit that there was “convergence” between Francis and the king on the treatment of migrants and vulnerable and marginalised communities.

The Moroccan king has the title of “commander of the faithful” and “has a particular religious responsibility in the Muslim world”, said Bourita.

The two leaders are using the historic visit to promote religious tolerance and condemn radicalism in the name of religion. This follows the massacre of 50 Muslim worshippers in mosques in New Zealand earlier this month by a white supremacist.

King Mohammed said religion should no longer be “an alibi for ignorant people”.

“What all terrorists have in common is not religion but rather ignorance of religion.”

The pope said the misuse of religion “to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and the invocation of the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression” should be halted.

“We are called to pursue this path tirelessly, in the effort to help each other overcome tensions and misunderstandings, clichés and stereotypes that generate fear and opposition,” said Francis.

Following bilateral talks during the visit, the pope and the king issued a joint statement calling for the protection of Jerusalem’s multi-religious character, saying the city’s sacred sites must be accessible to worshippers of all faiths.

The statement called for “full freedom of access” for Jews, Muslims and Christians and a guarantee of their right to worship there.

The decision by the United State to move their embassy to Jerusalem in 2017 inflamed tensions in the Middle East over the status of the city.