26/02/2017 10:35 SAST | Updated 26/02/2017 11:21 SAST

Dozens Arrested After Violence Of Pretoria March Against Immigrants

Gauteng Premier Makhura: 'We need to hear every voice against xenophobia.'

Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius
Protesters and police clash during in Pretoria on Friday during a protest by South Africans against immigrants. Police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to control the situation.

Stand up against xenophobia, said Gauteng Premier David Makhura.

"We call on all community leaders and political parties to stand up and speak out against these senseless acts of violence against foreign nationals. We need to hear every voice against xenophobia. We can't afford the repeat of events of the past years where many foreign nationals were killed and displaced. Stand up and be counted," said Makhura.

He was speaking during the launch of the province's Social Cohesion Games in Soweto at the weekend.

His comments followed the march on Friday in Pretoria, organised by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents group which is anti-immigration and accuses foreigners of involvement in crime. The march followed a wave of anger against foreigners, particularly Africans, riding on community concerns over drug dealers and brothels operating openly in some communities. Friday's march ended in violence, with attacks on immigrants on the streets of Pretoria and looting.

The Huffington Post reported on how the march turned violent.

"The Gauteng Provincial Government is deeply concerned about the recent incidences of looting, vigilantism, destruction of property and violent protests directed at foreign nationals," said Makhura.

"We condemn these acts in the strongest possible terms and commend the South African Police Services and law enforcement agencies for their sterling job in restoring calm in the affected areas in our province. To this end, the police have arrested 136 people suspected of public violence, possession of drugs, business burglaries. The law enforcement agencies will continue with this operation until the situation is stabilised and back to normal."

Sport has always had the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair — Nelson Mandela

Makhura said the social problems which reinforce prejudice must be tackled, which was why he set up an Eminent Group of Social Cohesion Champions on Human Rights Day on March 21 last year. The group is led by retired Constitutional Court judge Justice Yvonne Mokgoro.

"The specific mandate of the team includes facilitating frank conversations on racism and xenophobia among various sectors of the population in Gauteng. Their work focuses on dealing with structural and systemic factors and underlying causes of prejudice and inequality. They are working in partnership with schools, community organisations, cultural and sporting organisations as well as the economic institutions. It is only though the mobilisation of all sectors of society that we can successfully tackle inequalities that reinforce prejudice," said Makhura.

The Social Cohesion Games are part of this initiative and use soccer — which Makhura called a "common denominator" in South Africa, Africa and the world — as a unifying force.

"These games also talk about a lot of things considering our past as South Africans, how apartheid blemished our nation and how we had to seek assist from other African countries for us defeat the previous regime. We have roped in local soccer legends and those from fellow African countries who are resident in Gauteng such as William Okpara, Roger Fetumba, Kalusha Bywala, Timothy Bathabire, Innocent Chikoya, and Patrick Maverick. They will joined by South African soccer legends — Jomo Sono, Disco Makua, Doctor Khumalo, Brian Baloyi, Kennedy Makara, Thapelo Liau and Portia Modise," said Makhura.

"As our former late president Nelson Mandela aptly put it 'Sport has always had the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else can. Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair'. True to these powerful words, we believed that sport can transcend race, politics and unite a country.

On Friday, News24 reported that police used rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades to disperse angry marchers.

President Jacob Zuma condemned the violence.

City Press reported that Friday's march involved protesters arriving with axes, spears and sticks.

"The police are here to protect foreigners who are here illegally and sell drugs. These people must go home," one protester told the newspaper. Police stood between the protesters and a community of Somalis, who held pangas and sticks. The groups taunted each other and police used a water tank to spray the groups to disperse them.

The spokesperson for the Mamelodi Concerned Residents group, Makgoka Lekganyane, told City Press the group did not associate itself with those who caused violence. "The march has been misunderstood. We are against xenophobia. This was about calling for better border control and [calling on] the department of labour to protect South Africans."

The Sunday Times reported that mobs from the march attacked foreigners on the streets of Pretoria. The newspaper described how a mob of about 1,000 angry Atteridgeville residents armed with sticks and iron bars ransacked a camp near the Tshwane Events Centre; the camp was used by people including foreigners who are attending a church function.

Marchers cited anger over social problems like unemployment, drug abuse and prostitution, blaming immigrants for "taking" South Africans' jobs. Immigrants told the newspapers they were afraid.