Durban court bails out xenophobia

Thursday 5 February 2009 by Nic

Early in January, a Zimbabwean, Victor Zowa, and Omar Said from Tanzania, were murdered in the Durban City centre. The two immigrants were fleeing an armed mob who forced them to jump out a high-rise building. Another Zimbabwean, Eugene Madondo, survived the fall. Six people were arrested on the two counts of murder, for attempted murder and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. These are all schedule 1 offences for which a magistrate should only grant bail in exceptional circumstances. Yet, SAPA reports that the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Monday released five of the accused on R2,000 bail each. The sixth, Vusumuzi Khoza, an ANC eThekwini ward councillor, was released on the 28th of January for the same bail amount.

The Coalition Against Xenophobia in Johannesburg is disgusted at the leniency with which government authorities are dealing with xenophobic violence. Their continued insistence - from the presidency down to councillor Khoza and the Durban police - that the violence is related to criminal intent is especially absurd in this case of mob violence. By reducing the xenophobia to a vague criminal element, the state downplays the extents to which the violence is organized. And more sinisterly, the complicity of the police is obscured in the fog of crime.

Vusumuzi Khoza is the councillor for Albert Park in Durban city. Albert Park in the gained notoriety in July last year when the police removed refugees from the steps of the City Hall to the inner-city Durban neighbourhood without any provision being made for their shelter or basic amenities. In their makeshift plastic shelters, the refugees, mostly Congolese women and children, were left to fend for themselves against not just the elements but police officers who physically assaulted them. By November, Durban City manager, Michael Sutcliffe instructed the police to remove the eyesore and demolish the refugees’ structures to make way for a 2010 event. Once the host for the World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia in 2001, Durban is now a centre of the pogrom against immigrants that continues to reverberate across South Africa.

When activists are criminalised for claiming their Constitutional rights, in protest against poverty, they are served with bail conditions designed to keep them locked up and neutralised. The political strategy behind this maladministration of justice is to ensure that legitimate, democratic dissent against particular policies and actions of the government and its agencies is perceived as ’criminal’ and, as such, subject to the full coercive and institutional force of the state. Meanwhile, the response of the state to those who engage in acts of real criminal intent and purpose such as xenophobic attacks, is most often, to treat them with kid gloves. What message is being sent out when the official state responses, police treatment and bail conditions for those arrested for legitimate public protest are much harsher than for those who actually commit real crimes?

It is within this context that the Coalition and its thirty-plus constituent organisations calls for:
- The administration of justice to be consistent! Bail that is set for defendants must be proportionate to the charges they face.
- The suspension of the ward councillor, Vusumuzi Khosa. While he has murder charges and more hanging over his head, he cannot be a political representative of a purported democracy;
- Complaints of xenophobia in the police force - in Durban and elsewhere - be properly and fully investigated and the perpetrators prosecuted.
- An immediate halt to the harassment, detention and deportation of all immigrants in South Africa (including the shutting down of Lindela) alongside the implementation of an immigration policy that recognises the right of all human beings to dignity and respect.

Let us not allow the disease of xenophobia to spread, again, across our country.


Contact the Coalition Against Xenophobia by leaving comment at http://www.antix.org.za

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