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South Africa police minister blames criminality for attacks

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South African police minister Bheki Cele Monday said criminality, not xenophobia, should be blamed for the attacks on foreign-owned businesses in the country.

“Nothing... has sparked any form of conflict between the South African and foreign nationals,” Cele said.

Cele’s comment contrasted the views of Nigerian, Ethiopian and Zambian authorities after many businesses owned non-South Africans were singled out and destroyed by irate mobs, forcing Nigeria to vow “definitive measures.”

Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama said Nigerian businesses burned and looted “by mindless criminals with ineffective police protection.” Nigerian High Commission in South Africa described the situation as “anarchy”.

Ethiopia’s embassy advised its citizens not to wear expensive jewellery and to “distance themselves from any confrontation and conflict,” Ethiopia's Fana Broadcating Corporation reported.

With trucks attacked in Durban and Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Zambia advised its lorry drivers not to travel to South Africa until security improves.

Although attacks on foreign businesses are sporadic and sometimes fatal, the country’s police minister insisted that hatred of foreigners has nothing to do with such mob actions.

Cele said xenophobia is only “used as an excuse”, however, not many in Nigeria will believe the sentiments of the police minister.

“Nigerian-owned businesses were seriously affected. A car sales business owned by a Nigerian were among the several businesses set ablaze over the night,” the president of Nigeria Union South Africa (NUSA) Adetola Olubajo said in a statement on Monday.

South African opposition politician Julius Malema said attacks on foreign nationals were a misdirected anger and advised his countrymen to face up to fighting "white monopoly".

"Like all of us, our African brothers & sisters are selling their cheap labour for survival," Malema tweetes on Tuesday.

South African government was forced to give assurances to African ambassadors in April after it was revealed that former deputy police minister Bongani Mkongi told a press conference in 2017 that it was dangerous for a city in South Africa to have 80% of its population as foreigners.

Video of the comment started circulating in Nigeria on Monday.

“We are surrendering our land and it is not xenophobia to talk truth,” Mkongi said. “We fought for this land from a white minority, we cannot surrender it to the foreign nationals ... we fought for this country not only for us, [but] for the generations of South Africans.”

The city Mkongi mentioned in his comment - Hillbrow, a suburb of Johannesburg - is crime-infested, news24.com said.

But South African Human Rights’ Commission said the population is not 80% foreign nationals.

Much of the latest attacks have been concentrated in Johannesburg central business district. Olubajo said other towns in Johannesburg and Pretoria also saw pockets of violence.


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