Search

 

Cablegate: Police Unable to Control Xenophobic and Ethnic

VZCZCPCI6056
RR RUEHC RUEHZO RUEHTN RUEHDU RUEHGV RUEAIIA
RUCNCAR RHEFDIA RHEHNSC
DE RUEHSA #1061/01 1401844
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 191844Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4500
INFO RUEHZO/AFRICAN UNION COLLECTIVE
RUEHTN/AMCONSUL CAPE TOWN 5613
RUEHDU/AMCONSUL DURBAN 9829
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1251
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUCNCAR/WORLD CONFERENCE AGAINST RACISM COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PRETORIA 001061

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/S, CA/OCS, DS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI ASEC PREF PHUM SF ZI
SUBJECT: POLICE UNABLE TO CONTROL XENOPHOBIC AND ETHNIC
VIOLENCE

REF: PRETORIA 644

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Though South Africans have perpetrated
sporadic, but infrequent xenophobic attacks throughout the
country in recent years, the frequency and intensity of the
attacks in the past several weeks against not only
foreigners, but also those of different South African
ethnicities, has escalated to dramatic proportions. The most
recent attacks over the past week started in the impoverished
township of Alexandra, just outside the capitol, and spread
to neighboring townships and informal settlements, as well as
the Johannesburg central business district. Thus far, 12
people have been murdered, at least two of whom were South
African. While there have been no reports of Americans being
targeted, these incidents of mob violence have sprung up
quickly and proven difficult for local authorities to
control. The violence has many complex origins, and post
continues to investigate, but at base, the current violent
outbreaks against all foreigners, not just Zimbabweans, seem
to be rooted in the SAG's inability to deliver services,
especially housing; unrealized expectations post apartheid;
unequal distribution of income and wealth; and high
unemployment. END SUMMARY.

-----------------------------
VIOLENCE ENGULFS JOHANNESBURG
-----------------------------

2. (SBU) The front page of every newspaper in South Africa on
19 May showed horrific images of "alleged foreigners" being
burnt alive (with bystanders laughing), being beaten by angry
mobs, or fleeing their burning shacks during the weekend
(19-20 May). The violence, which started in Alexandra and
Diepsloot townships last week, spread throughout Gauteng
province this weekend to at least eight other townships and
even the central business district of Johannesburg.
According to press accounts, at least 12 people were murdered
(though the toll is expected to rise) and hundreds more were
beaten, stabbed, or shot. Criminal elements are also taking
advantage of the situation, with widespread looting taking
place. Police have arrested over 200 people on charges
including murder, attempted murder, rape, public violence,
and robbery.

3. (SBU) The angry mobs appeared unapologetic for their
actions. Press reports note that mobs walked around
townships or stopped vehicles looking for "foreigners" to
attack. Police struggled to control the violence and had to
withdraw several times after being taunted and pelted with
rocks and bricks. At times, police were forced to respond by
shooting rubber bullets into crowds in order to allow people
to evacuate. At least one of the mobsters, whose victim was
dragged into a police car before he was beaten to death, told
the police, "These people must go. We do not want them
here."

------------------------
ETHNIC ANGLE TO VIOLENCE
------------------------

4. (SBU) As with prior attacks (reftel), the violence does
not appear solely xenophobic in nature, with South Africans
being targeted as well. Numerous press reports note that in
addition to Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, and Congolese,
Tshivenda and Shangaan-speaking South Africans also were
targeted. One press report alleges that at least one mob was
purging all non-isiZulu-speaking people from an area, saying
"all we want here are Zulus." The nationality and ethnicity
of victims has not been established, but at least two were
South African.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------
VIOLENCE CENTERS AROUND LACK OF RESOURCES AND MISPERCEPTIONS
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

5. (SBU) PolAsst, who grew up in Alexandra, visited the
township on 19 May and discovered that anti-foreign sentiment
is widespread. Most people on the street told him that it's
not that they do not want foreigners in South Africa, just
not in Alexandra. They feel Alexandra is already one of the
most poorly resourced townships in South Africa, and
foreigners "are only adding to their problems."

6. (SBU) As was the case in Atteridgeville last month
(reftel), there is intense jealousy and rivalry over housing
and unemployment. There is also a misperception that
foreigners commit most crimes in South Africa and are better
treated by South African authorities. PolAsst was told the
violence in Alexandra was sparked by a "foreigner" who was
selling items outside a South African-owned business. The
South African owner insisted he move, the foreigner refused,
and violence broke out and spread. Numerous press reports
also cite a widespread rumor that the SAG was giving
Zimbabweans government houses before South Africans. It is
widely known that some South Africans rent their government
houses they no longer need to the highest bidder, whether
they are South African or foreign, while other South Africans
live in makeshift informal settlements for years on a waiting
list for a government house.

7. (SBU) PolAsst received excellent cooperation from township
authorities during his 19 May visit with Alexandra Police
Commissioner Pharisa, as well as Superintendent Terreblance
and 17 other policemen who answered every question PolAsst
asked. (COMMENT: PolAsst's background growing up in
Alexandra likely contributed to their willingness to answer
questions. END COMMENT) According to Terreblanche, the
violence was sparked by residents not wanting foreigners to
take their jobs, houses, and business opportunities away from
them. As an example, he mentioned that a South African day
laborer asks for 100 rand (US $13) a day, while foreigners
will often work for 30 rand (US $4) a day. Terreblance said
that residents have been complaining to the police for about
nine months about foreigners, and when nothing happened,
residents of Alexandra got fed up and took action themselves.
Both Terreblance and Pharisa also mentioned that the
"tsotsi" element (South African thugs) has taken over and is
behind most of the serious violence. Member of Parliament
Obed Bapela also has publicly said that the majority of
violence is being committed by young criminals "who were
between one and six years old in 1994; they are clueless in
terms of who we are, where we come from, and where we are
going as a country."

---------------------------------
GOVERNMENT AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES
---------------------------------

8. (SBU) Government spokesperson Themba Maseko publicly said
"there is some form of orchestration to these attacks; they
are not just criminal." Maseko also described the attacks as
"crazy and inexplicable," blaming "somebody" who wants to
take advantage of the declining mood in the country to
destabilize South Africa. The SAG also has called in the
"intelligence services" to further investigate who is behind
the attacks, implying foreign governments intent on making
South Africa look bad are to blame. Maseko also said the
"lack of intelligence" on the issue has caused the police to
be taken off-guard, deflecting criticism that police have
been unable to contain the violence.

--------------------------------------
GOVERNMENT RESPONSE LACKING, YET AGAIN
--------------------------------------

9. (SBU) Parliament held a special session on xenophobia on
16 May, with the ANC condemning the violence, arguing that
refugees must be integrated into society. Both President
Mbeki and ANC President Jacob Zuma have condemned the attacks
in general. Mbeki announced he has set up a "panel" to look
into the attacks. Zuma said he could not fathom how South
Africans could attack foreigners when so many ANC members
sought refuge in neighboring countries during apartheid.
Interestingly, Director of the University of Witwatersrand
Forced Migration Studies Program Loren Landau told PolOffs
last month that he had tried in vain to reach out to Zuma's
camp to get them to issue a statement against xenophobia.
Zuma's camp declined, and Landau was told off the record that
the reason was that many people close to Zuma are xenophobic.
Landau believes that Zuma's populism, his promises to
improve people's living conditions, and his nationalistic
tendencies (as opposed to Mbeki's pan Africanist stance) may
spell an unwillingness to act against xenophobia in real
terms.

--------------------------------
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS ALREADY HERE
--------------------------------

10. (SBU) Doctors Without Borders' group spokesperson, Eric
Goemaere, said the number of foreigners left destitute as a
result of last week's violence, which the Red Cross estimates
at around 3,000, constitutes a humanitarian crisis. Goemaere
believes that efforts to argue otherwise just because the
victims are not being housed in what the international
community would define as a refugee camp are nothing more
than semantics. "I have treated bullet wounds, beaten
people, rape victims, and the people are terrified," he said.

-------
COMMENT
-------

11. (SBU) Xenophobia and ethnic tensions within South Africa
have many complex origins and post continues to investigate
current incidents and their causes. Inter-ethnic tensions
may have been swept under the rug, but have never died. At
base, the current violent outbreaks against all foreigners,
not just Zimbabweans, seem to be rooted in the SAG's
inability to deliver services, especially housing; unrealized
expectations post-apartheid; unequal distribution of income
and wealth; and high unemployment. However, instead of
blaming the SAG or the ANC for not delivering what was
promised during the struggle, people are misdirecting their
anger at foreigners by spreading mistruths about them. While
foreigners likely commit some crime, they do not commit the
majority of crime in South Africa. Anecdotal evidence
indicates they are not better treated by police. Refugee
organizations repeatedly tell EmbOffs that foreigners are
afraid of police because of how they have been treated in the
past.

BOST

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>

ALSO:

Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>

ALSO: