Attacks on Somali-owned shops in and around Mamelodi township over the last six days have cost lives and livelihoods and are part of a disturbing trend of violence against refugees and migrants which the police and government are failing to address, Amnesty International said.
“Despite repeated calls, the police were slow to respond and failed to adequately deploy patrols to stop the escalation of violence which has so far left one refugee dead, ten others injured and at least 76 shops burnt or looted,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“These attacks are just the latest in a wave of ongoing and widespread violence targeted at refugees and migrants in South Africa. The fact that they were preventable highlights a pattern of inaction on the part of the police and a failure of political will in government to tackle this violence.”
The violence erupted on 7 June in Mamelodi, a township northeast of Pretoria. But despite the fact that police were informed soon after the violence started, they failed to respond appropriately and rapidly.
Police in Mamelodi did little to protect targeted shops or to assist in the evacuation of people and attacks spread to nearby Nellmapius. Violence has continued for six days, subsiding on the morning of 11 June following the deployment of a large and visible police presence but erupting later that day in different parts of Mamelodi and Nellmapius.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the South African government to adopt and implement a nationally led strategy of prevention, protection and access to justice for victims of these crimes, in recognitions of the vulnerability of South Africa’s refugee population. The government has not responded to these calls and has yet to publically condemn the outrages in Mamelodi.
“Six years after the large-scale xenophobic violence of 2008, it is inexcusable that South African authorities have yet to address this problem,” said Deprose Muchena.
“A national strategy to prevent violence against refugees is urgently needed together with an end to the impunity which many perpetrators of violence against refugees apparently enjoy. Only then will the government be able to prevent a repetition of this tragic violence which has deprived members of South Africa’s already marginalized Somali refugee community of their livelihoods and their lives.”
The attacks in Mamelodi occurred against a backdrop of ongoing and widespread targeted violence against refugees and migrants in South Africa. In the first two and a half months of 2014, similar incidents were recorded in seven provinces of South Africa. Around 1,000 refugees and migrants, including family members of shop-keepers, were displaced as a result of looting and destruction of property in 300 small businesses and a number of refugees were reportedly killed.
In late March, approximately 600 people were displaced as a result of looting and property destruction in over 150 shops in one single location in Mpumalanga. Further incidents have continued to be reported throughout April and May. In some cases, humanitarian, refugee and civil society organizations working with some local or Public Order police units have managed to avert or mitigate the worst effects of this violence. Amnesty International has continued to raise its concerns with the South African authorities, at local, provincial and national levels in recent years and most recently, in a letter to the President in April 2014.
Latest reports suggest that on the evening of 11 June there was looting in Mamelodi west B2 section, Mamelodi West section C, Mamelodi East Lusaka and Nellmapius Extension 2.