The scenes playing out across Gauteng, where foreigners are being attacked and their goods looted, do not belong in our democracy. That is not who we are, and that is not how we treat our brothers and sisters.
Ours is a country that still bears scars from a divided and brutal past, but we emerged from this past to become a country of hope and unity. We cannot go backwards. The violence and anarchy we are now seeing in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni cannot be tolerated and it cannot go without consequences.
There can never be any justification for this kind of behaviour. Those attempting to do so by pointing to their own circumstances – poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunities – are fooling themselves. They are seeking to create scapegoats for problems that have different solutions. This must end.
The only way we will restore peace and calm to these areas is through far more efficient policing. We need to be able to arrest those who are destroying property and looting shops, and we need to be able to identify and apprehend those who are orchestrating the violence.
This is why we are here today to hand over a memorandum to the SAPS station commander, for the attention of National Police Minister, Bheki Cele. The time for monitoring the situation is over. We need swift and decisive action from national government if we are to deal with this scourge of xenophobic violence. Because it we don’t – if we simply respond with the minimum police presence and no proper crime intelligence – then this kind of violence will continue to flare up every few years.
We call on the Minister of Police and national government to do the following:
- Deploy an emergency budget to deal with the outbreak of xenophobic violence in Gauteng.
- Immediately increase the number of SAPS Public Order Police.
- Increase the number of police reservists.
- Cooperate with the Provincial SAPS and Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) through the sharing of crime intelligence.
At the heart of what we need is better cooperation between the three spheres of government. This is not a time for power games and obstructiveness. Already, the cooperation between the JMPD and the provincial SAPS has yielded good results, but because they are so under-resourced, their impact will always be limited.
We need this same cooperation to extend to national government, through SAPS. If there is crime intelligence which they are not sharing, we urge them to do so right away. If they have no such crime intelligence to share, then this is a major concern, as it means they are not doing their job. Either way, they need to take the provincial and local law enforcement into their confidence so that we can root out this violence together.
But sharing of intelligence alone is not enough. We also need far more boots on the ground until this matter has been resolved. The SAPS and JMPD members who are already deployed to these flashpoints are stretched to breaking point, and they cannot deal with the sheer scale of the job. Minister Cele must urgently deploy SAPS officers from elsewhere in South Africa to Gauteng so that every scene of xenophobic violence can be met with an adequate Public Order Police response.
This increased police deployment must also include police reservists. The Police Commissioner confirmed, in an answer to a Parliamentary question, that the number of reservists has declined since 2010 from over 63,000 to less than 9,000. These reservists play a crucial role in aiding SAPS in their task, and it is vital that we bolster their numbers to add to the visible policing on our streets.
The Minister must also explain to South Africans how these xenophobic actions were allowed to escalate to the level of violence and anarchy which they did. From videos and eye witnesses, it is clear that many police officers were completely unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the situation, and in many cases allowed the violence and looting to continue in front of them.
The effect of this inaction will be to encourage more such attacks – and not only in Gauteng, but ultimately across the country. The only way to deal with crime is to ensure that there are swift repercussions for these actions. Because without such repercussions, our society will descend into lawlessness and chaos.
This is not a time for power games and politicising the police. If government is at all serious about ending this outbreak of xenophobic violence, then Minister Cele must immediately open his door to cooperation and teamwork.