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Transforming Society

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Restoring Dignity

SA Human Rights Commission calls for immediate action following attacks on foreign traders

Mar 9, 2021

Durban - The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and civil society organisations in Durban have called for immediate action to end violent attacks on foreign traders, allegedly perpetrated by a group purporting to be Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) members, after another brutal attack in the city on Monday.

The incident followed a spate of sporadic attacks on foreign traders in recent months.

Superintendent Zama Dlamini, acting spokesperson for the metro police, said they were aware of the most recent incident.

“Wherever there are xenophobic attacks, metro police goes out and stops it. We had reports of MKMVA attacking and assaulting foreign traders,” she said.

Dlamini said there were “too many injuries” among both locals and foreign nationals and believed this time there had been retaliation from the foreign nationals.

“The situation is calm right now, police are still visible. We’ve identified hot spots and trading areas where there are hawkers. For now, we’re trying to calm the situation,” she said.

Describing the recent attack, provincial SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker said a group of men had set alight three trading stalls belonging to foreign street vendors at the corner of Victoria and Albert streets yesterday.

“Two men were assaulted and taken to hospital for medical attention. A case of public violence has been opened for investigation by Durban Central SAPS. Police are at the scene and are monitoring the situation,” Naicker said.

Dozens of foreign nationals, who are hawkers or who own small businesses in the CBD, sought refuge at the Diakonia Centre after yesterday’s incident.

DA eThekwini councillor Sharmaine Sewshanker said the attacks were “definitely not fake news” and she had heard eyewitness accounts and had even witnessed past attacks herself.

“The eyewitness accounts are frightening, and the violence is increasing. The foreign traders and shoppers are not feeling safe. Now people will be afraid to even come down to the city because when these mobs go on the rampage they attack and don’t care about the cars parked and people in the way. They rob, loot and burn,” she said.

Zibuse Cele, a KZN leader of the MKMVA, denied the association had anything to do with the attacks. “It is not us. Our members are at Nkandla, at work, and some are home.

“We are not involved in what is taking place in town (Durban). Law enforcement must take care of the situation. We want to tell these people to stop using our name, and we are not involved in what they are doing,” he said.

In a statement, the SAHRC said such acts were unlawful and were motivated by incorrect beliefs that others have no human rights based on their social origins.

“The commission remains concerned and extremely disturbed by these xenophobic acts which serve only to heighten and exacerbate the existing racial, social and ethnic tensions in the city, which has the potential to trigger further xenophobic incidents and attacks on non-nationals in other parts of the province as well as nationally,” the statement said.

Kizaimani Buffalo Mukucha, a 39-year-old asylum seeker who is a street vendor on Denis Hurley (Queen) Street, where the violence erupted yesterday, said he started trading recently after he was retrenched last February.

“We had a warning last Thursday. They passed by and said they will come on Saturday to see if we are still selling. They came back, torched one table with a petrol bomb and were beating people.

“There is no other option for me to survive. I have a family to feed, two kids and a wife,” he said.

Nomagugu Mlawe, Durban Legal Clinic office manager at Lawyers for Human Rights, said they had engaged with the mayor’s office and the SAHRC regarding violent attacks against foreign street traders in Durban.

“These attacks are unlawful and unwarranted. Law-enforcement intervention has been absent and there’s a flagrant disregard of the law by the perpetrators. Many refugees have suffered and have been stripped of their livelihoods. The city is not applying the necessary urgent interventions needed, given the critical nature of the situation,” she said.

Yasmin Rajah, director for Refugee Social Services, which is based at the Diakonia Centre, said: “There were more than 200 people, mostly women, who arrived on our doorstep this morning (yesterday). The attacks seem to be spreading around the city.

“A lot of people have experienced violence in their home countries. This is the only home they know. We are calling on the government to intervene at this critical stage as this is a serious indictment on our country.”

City spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said it was impossible for them to know where or when such acts would occur.

“These are criminal acts and the city has stated on numerous occasions that it condemns them with the contempt that they deserve, and we will support all law enforcement agencies in their endeavours to stop these criminals. We regard all those who trade legally in the city as equal citizens of our city,” he said.

Source: The Mercury

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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