THE South African government has started tackling attacks on foreigners, including Zimbabweans, by a grouping that launched an anti-foreigner campaign it calls Operation Dudula.
The campaign has seen non-South Africans being forced out of their businesses and the attacks intensified over the weekend as dozens of people were chased away in a number of areas including Johannesburg.
Foreigners in the neighbouring country who are there legally have also been targeted and among those on the receiving end are truck drivers.
Those behind the campaign accuse foreign nationals of taking their jobs and being responsible for the rising levels of crime such as running drug and prostitution syndicates.
The campaign has resulted in Zimbabweans living in fear in the neighbouring country.
There have been outbreaks of xenophobic attacks in South Africa over the years and the most serious violence was witnessed in 2008 when about 60 people died.
Last year in December, South Africa’s Home Affairs Department also stopped renewing the Zimbabwean Special Permits (ZEPs) that expired in that month, and opted to give the permit holders a year to move to other visa regimes or face deportation.
The ZEP, which is also being scrapped was introduced in 2009 and there are about 180 000 ZEP holders in South Africa.
The spokesperson for South Africa Police Minister Bheki Cele, Lirandzu Themba, had not responded to questions sent to her last night.
However, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor’s spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele said the matter was being dealt with.
“This issue has got nothing to do with Dirco (Department of International Relations and Cooperation) and it is being dealt with by the police because it is against the South African laws for anyone to be harassing businesses.
The issue of checking permits is a government role through a department of labour and employment in South Africa.
It’s not done by individuals; hence it is being dealt with,” he said.
Zimbabwe Consul-General to Johannesburg Mrs Melody Chaurura said they had engaged responsible authorities in South Africa to ensure the safety of Zimbabweans.
“We received reports over the past week of Zimbabweans who were being attacked by the so-called Operation Dudula.
“However, police have intervened and stopped the attacks and as of now, we have no new reports of harassment or anyone who has been injured.
We will continue engaging responsible authorities to ensure the safety of Zimbabwean citizens,” she said.
In an interview, Zimbabwe Community in South Africa chairperson Mr Nicholas Ngqabutho Mabhena said even Zimbabweans who are in South Africa legally have been attacked.
He said it was not the duty of citizens to go around inspecting legal documents, but of the police.
“Groups of people who are calling themselves Operation Dudula are going around, harassing foreigners despite them holding legal documents.
There have been attacks in Soweto around Baragwanath Hospital and in Alexandra amongst other areas.
This is an illegal operation because you can’t have private citizens going around asking people to produce documents. It is not the job of private citizens to check permits,” he said.
“It is the duty of the police and the immigration officers.
If they think that there are people living in South Africa without documents, they should talk to the department of home affairs and the police.”
He appealed to Zimbabweans and other nationals to be careful.
“We advise our members not to produce or show their documents to any private citizens.
We have engaged the African Diaspora Forum and we are coordinating a response mechanism.
We are in contact with the South African Council of churches and other civil society organisations and we are working on trying to isolate Operation Dudula at community level,” said Mr Mabhena.