Bheki Cele talks during a briefing by the justice, crime prevention and security cluster on Tuesday September 10 2019. Picture: GCIS.
Bheki Cele talks during a briefing by the justice, crime prevention and security cluster on Tuesday September 10 2019. Picture: GCIS.

Police minister Bheki Cele insisted on Tuesday that the latest wave of attacks ostensibly targeted at foreign nationals were not xenophobic, but acts of criminality.

Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the recent incidents of femicide and violent protests and looting mainly in Gauteng, Cele said the narrative that only foreign shops are being targeted is false.

The criminals “don’t even know who owns the shops. To us that is nothing but criminality,” he said.

The SA Police Service (SAPS) is “dealing with criminality, not xenophobia. We take criminals, we only know your nationality when we process you,” Cele said.

Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said 10 of the 12 people who were killed during the unrest last week were South Africans.

Earlier, the justice, crime prevention and security cluster ministers said they have noted with concern that the incidents of lawlessness have been characterised as xenophobic attacks. Evidence presented to the cluster has not shown that “foreign nationals are being targeted because of their nationality”, they said.

“On the contrary we are seeing acts of criminality. Whoever is found on the wrong side of the law will be dealt with accordingly. SA is not a xenophobic country,” the ministers said in a joint statement.

A committee will be set up by the SAPS and the National Prosecution Authority to look at all cold cases regarding sexual offences and gender-based violence.

The increasing rate of rape and femicide in SA has come under scrutiny in recent weeks after the murder and rape of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a University of Cape Town student, and the murder of a young female boxing champion, Leighandre “Baby Lee” Jegels.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said he would propose to the cabinet that all laws punishing crimes against women and children should carry harsher minimum sentences.

The police has committed to training more female police officers to deal with victims of crimes against women and children at station level.

“This will go a long way in ensuring that victims are not subjected to secondary victimisation.

“The cluster has noted the high level of sexual offences at institutions of higher learning. To address this matter, the minister of police has been tasked to convene all vice-chancellors to reassess campus security,” the statement reads.

During Tuesday’s debate, the IFP’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi said gender-based violence and the xenophobic attacks should be tackled urgently.

“There are consequences for our country and for our people in the diaspora. We need to stop this thing [xenophobic attacks] in its tracks before serious action is taken against us. This is not the first spate of attacks, but it must be the last,” Buthelezi said.

Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald said “the people of SA have heard the topics of crime and violence being debated in parliament time and again. They have grown tired of listening to hollow words. They want to see action being taken.”

DA MP Chantal King said it is concerning that the National Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Strategic Plan has not been finalised and that no budget has been allocated to address gender-based violence in the ministry of women, youth and people living with disabilities.

“We should put our money where our mouths are and have the political will to address the scourge of gender-based violence.”

phakathib@businesslive.co.za