‘We knew about xenophobic violence. Crime intelligence bosses ignored us’

2019-09-16 11:53

The Johannesburg cluster of police crime intelligence said the intelligence on the imminent xenophobic attacks was escalated to their superiors two days before the violence flared up but now believe, given the inaction by relevant units, their information was probably ignored.

Meanwhile, an induna at a Johannesburg hostel has confirmed to City Press that, together with his counterparts from other hostels, they were aware of the imminent violence and that there was no way the police could have missed such information.

“The guys, including their crime intelligence cluster commander, are not happy that the information out there suggests that they did not do their work. Yes, information was picked up late on Friday and was immediately relayed to the commander who is also saying that he had emailed relevant counterparts so they could act accordingly,” said a source within the cluster unit.

“It cannot be the unit’s problem that relevant units and resources were not readied for any kind of violent eruption. Ours is to gather information, pass it on so that appropriate action can be taken, lives be saved and properties be secured.”


Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo described the violence as “spontaneous” and that “it stemmed from a flat that was burnt by a jealous lover”. He said the attackers were “opportunistic criminals”. Asked about the failure to act on the intelligence provided on the attacks, Naidoo said: “Intelligence is classified and privileged information which I am not prepared to discuss publicly. Whosoever provided you with such information is in contravention of the Intelligence Act.”

Manyathela Mvelase, an induna at Wolhuter Hostel in Jeppestown, said as soon as he was made aware of the pamphlets pasted on hostel walls, he knew that “trouble was coming … how can police miss that?”

He showed City Press a copy of the pamphlet attributed to the Sisonke People’s Forum, which urged hostel dwellers to join a shutdown aimed at taking out foreign nationals who were taking “our jobs” and to shut down drug dealers’ places.

However, it was clear that foreign nationals should not be fought, but “we must tell business owners that we want our work back”, he said. Mvelase believed it was that piece of A4 paper that incited the violence.

“When you tell frustrated people to take back their country, you are calling for violence. Yes, the paper did not say go beat people [up] and loot, but behind the scenes there was a bigger mobilisation aimed at making the whole protest more impactful. Otherwise, people would not just wake up and decide to pounce on businesses, foreign-owned or not,” he said.

Our people are fed up, not skilled and jobless. They live in squalor and right now they are being used as scapegoats.

Mvelase said hostels were teeming with thousands of frustrated unemployed people who live in horrible conditions and that they are “perfect tools and manpower for anarchists”.

“Our people are fed up, not skilled and jobless. They live in squalor and right now they are being used as scapegoats. Zulus and hostel dwellers are always to blame for the violence when they are actually used as tools of anarchy by saying to them what affects them directly is the reason they should go on the rampage,” he said.

Mvelase said the living conditions in the hostels were not helping. “They are hungry and hopeless. They automatically support anything as long as they will come back home with something and once you mention the much sought-after jobs, there is no way they won’t go with you,” he said.

He condemned the violence but said he was not happy that foreign nationals were preferred for jobs over South Africans.

“The people here are angry at a government that seems to care more about the interests of others. A lot of crime happens here at the hostel and nothing is ever done. Our people watch as people from outside the country grab work opportunities, get into business while locals are left on the sidelines with government not doing anything about it.”

He was adamant that despite the calm, the recent attacks were “definitely not the last”.

“People are frustrated. The violence will never end especially now when people seem to believe that our government is not doing much to address their concerns,” Mvelase said.

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October 13 2019