In the early hours of this morning the SAPS, together with the army and officials from Home Affairs, raided an area in the Johannesburg CBD, which included a raid on the Central Methodist Church – a site which has long been a refuge for desperate and poor foreign refugees.
More than 400 people were reportedly arrested in this morning’s raid in the Johannesburg CBD. This follows in the wake of the police raids, which were performed by regular police, the police tactical response unit, assisted by the army and accompanied by officials from Home Affairs, in the Thembelihle community last week. Many members of the Thembelihle community have since reported that the police stole from them and brutally assaulted them during that raid.
The SAPS official explanation for the raid on the Johannesburg CBD, similar to their justification for the raid on Thembelihle, has been that it was performed in order to target ‘criminal activities’ in the area.
However, this then calls into question the presence of the army and the Home Affairs officials during the raids. The government has told us that the deployment of the army within the Johannesburg area is to assist the police with quelling the recent instances of xenophobic violence. But why employ the army and officials from Home Affairs to assist SAPS with operations which are aimed at targeting ‘criminal activities’?
It is clear that President Zuma is using the context of the xenophobic attacks and the presence of ‘illegal immigrants’ in poor communities, as an excuse to send in the police, the army and Home Affairs to target foreign nationals, while officials utter the words ‘criminal activity’ as a guise for what are really acts of xenophobia enacted by the government. These measures by government, SAPS and the army only serve to exacerbate xenophobic tensions within the country and do nothing to solve them.
The raid in Johannesburg took place at night, while people and children were sleeping – a frightening experience for the people who were targeted, especially the children. It is deplorable that a symbol of refuge like the Central Methodist Church should be the target of such a crude and brutal attack by the police. Attempts to determine how many refugee community members were arrested, or the reasons for their detention, have proved fruitless. Despite the presence of Home Affairs and immigration officers during the raid, many foreign nationals were reportedly arrested even though they were in possession of asylum papers.
The police in the Gauteng Johannesburg area are now openly and brazenly targeting foreign nationals, assisted by the army, in what can only be described as state-sponsored and state-coordinated xenophobia.