SOUTH AFRICA: South Africa Under Scrutiny Over Xenophobia

A semblance of normalcy is returning to the streets of the inner city of Johannesburg weeks after xenophobic violence hit South Africa&#...

A semblance of normalcy is returning to the streets of the inner city of Johannesburg weeks after xenophobic violence hit South Africa's commercial capital.

The city appears to have just moved along, wearing the memory of violence in large billboards condemning the xenophobia that killed at least eight people, injured hundreds and displaced thousands more in early April.

But behind the facade is a massive government operation targeting illegal foreign nationals that many have argued is "state xenophobia".

Several hundreds of migrants, many undocumented, have been rounded up by the South African Police Services during stop-and-search procedures and early morning raids throughout the country over the past three weeks.

According to the South African police, the "Operation Fiela-Reclaim" campaign has netted illegal weapons, narcotics and counterfeit goods, directly linked to the surge in xenophobic violence last month. Civil society organisations, however, are concerned that abuses are being perpetrated in the name of quelling xenophobic violence.

Successive raids have taken place in Jeppestown, Hillbrow in Johannesburg, parts of Pretoria and Cape Town.

Responding to the latest developments, the People's Coalition against Xenophobia, a group of civil society organisations, has gone as far as to label the government operation "institutional xenophobia".

Activists like the veteran trade unionist Steven Faulkner said it was inappropriate for the government to arrest people who are believed to be undocumented visitors to the country on a mass scale instead of tackling the root causes of crime.

"To equate crime with undocumented people in our society is not tackling xenophobia, it is legitimising xenophobia," Faulkner told a press briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday .

Activists were outraged last week when police and immigration officials raided the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg, known to house hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers for at least the past 14 years.

Foreign nationals living at the camp and witnesses said the church was raided at 4am in the morning by heavy-handed police officials.

"They came [and] they were breaking the doors. They were rushing people even those with small, small babies they were being pushed," Loyce Hove, a Zimbabwean national who suffers from a physical disability, said.

"It was not nice. They were shouting, 'Go back you mkwerekwere [derogatory term for foreigners]. Go to Zimbabwe.' This was from the police," the mother of three said. Another woman identified only as Linda because she declined to give her second name described the experience as "horrible" and "rude".

She said they were not allowed to speak, or point out where their papers were kept. Their children, she added, were dragged out in their pyjamas.

"They were kicking people, they were kicking the doors … everyone was shocked about why this thing is happening," she said.

At least 48 women and children were transferred to a temporary camp for displaced foreigners in Mayfair, west of Johannesburg, the South African charity Gift of the Givers said. Several hundreds, however, were held at the Johannesburg police station, awaiting their fate.

On Saturday afternoon, police finally revealed that 235 illegal immigrants had been arrested after a raid on "illegal buildings". Police spokesperson Katlego Mogale would not say how many more were being held, except that once charged, they would be deported.
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