Xenophobia downplayed, but government quietly taking it seriously

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By Wilson Johwa. THE government may have chosen to deny the existence of xenophobic violence but was better prepared for it than in 2008, says Gerald Kraak, South African head of the US foundation Atlantic Philanthropies.

After the 2008 attacks it commissioned a study whose authors ascribed xenophobic tension in SA to the lack of social and economic transformation .

Yesterday, Mr Kraak said that despite blaming criminals for the attacks on foreigners, the authorities were better prepared than they were two years ago, when 62 people were killed in attacks on foreigners.

“This time, even though they publicly play down xenophobia, they take it seriously,” he said yesterday.

His comments came after reports that Doctors Without Borders — better known by its French name Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) — had moved into Kya Sands township in Johannesburg, the scene of clashes between foreigners and locals on Monday night.

MSF had been working in central Johannesburg and in Musina, providing Zimbabweans seeking refuge in SA with medical care and mental- health services.

At least 16 people, mostly foreigners, have been attacked during the past two days and about 12 people were arrested in connection with xenophobic skirmishes.

The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA welcomed the arrests but said there was a need to assess the situation so that violence did not erupt again as soon as the law enforcement authorities left .

In Parliament, Lawrence Mushwana, of the South African Human Rights Commission, spoke of the difficulties the commission faced in trying to get responses from the government on a report it had compiled on the 2008 attacks, and how to prevent them from happening again.

He said some government departments had responded by saying it had nothing to do with them. “We compile some of the reports. We make recommendations. We bring them here. We write. But no one answers,” said Mr Mushwana.

“Until we know what is causing (this), we will not be able to solve it… Is it crime? Is it xenophobia? What is the thinking behind it? They are here to take our jobs? Is it socio-economic?” he asked.

Meanwhile, the satirical website Hayibo.com lampooned the government’s approach to the attacks.

Quoting fictional Zimbabwean car guard “Scapegoat Mawhiri”, it wrote: “Now that I know that they were just criminals and not xenophobes, my ruptured eyeball feels much better.

“When they come for me again on Friday night I will greet them with a cheery ‘Hello Africa, tell me how you doin’!’ and then reflect on the wonders of ubuntu while they stand on my head and carry off my chest- freezer.” With Sapa

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Additional information:

Report: South African Civil Society and Xenophobia