South Africa, Africa

Right of Response: In defence of Operation Fiela

By Phumla Williams 22 May 2015

Earlier this week, Daily Maverick published a critical column by Sally Hurt regarding the government’s response to xenophobia. Here, in the interests of fair representation and robust debate, we publish in full a response by Acting Cabinet Spokesperson PHUMLA WILLIAMS regarding the status of Operation Fiela-Reclaim.

There are times when opinions expressed in the media lead to intense public discourse about their merits or otherwise. There are also times when opinions paint a partial picture of the true state of affairs.

Sadly the opinion piece by Sally Hurt: “The quiet violence of refugee life: It’s not xenophobia – it’s just plain prejudice” in the Daily Maverick 19 May 2015 falls squarely into the latter category.

She takes aim at Operation Fiela-Reclaim, a complex multidisciplinary interdepartmental operation, and claims it is simply a show of government prejudice.

Nothing is further from the truth. Fiela forms part of our overall strategy to ensure that all people in South Africa are and feel safe. Allow me to place on record what Fiela aims to achieve.

Fiela is an operation to rid our country of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities. It is by no means a silver bullet, and is but one aspect of a much larger drive to ensure a safer South Africa.

I am confident that South Africans and foreign nationals living in our country would agree that the South African Police Service, supported by other agencies, is duty bound to tackle crime, lawlessness, impunity, intolerance and disregard for the rule of law.

Sadly there has been a number of recent incidents which are not in keeping with our Constitutional democracy and the rule of law. Government will never sit back and allow criminals to have free reign or allow for the rule of law to be subverted.

Government cannot and will not turn a blind eye to acts of criminality and will continue to act decisively and swiftly to restore law and order. Our actions form part of a plan to give government space to address socio-economic and security challenges in a structured and co-ordinated manner.

Operation Fiela will therefore be intensified and expanded in the coming weeks and months. Law-abiding South Africans and foreign nationals have nothing to fear. Our operations are targeted at criminals and crime. They are conducted in strict compliance with the various laws and regulations that govern our society. The search and seizure operations in various places have also been conducted in a professional manner and within the confines of the law.

Operation Fiela is helping to make our country safer and will enable people who live in South Africa to enjoy their freedoms in an environment that is free from crime.

Hurt also claims that government is unwelcoming to foreign nationals and refugees. South Africa is a constitutional democracy governed by the rule of law. We are obligated under the Geneva Protocol on Refugees to protect all foreign nationals in the country. Since the dawn of democracy in 1994 we have consistently fought to protect the human rights and the basic rights of all persons without our borders, including foreign nationals. In fact South Africa has unique arrangements with certain other countries such as the special dispensations for Zimbabwean nationals.

This by no means implies that our migration system is flawless or without challenges. President Jacob Zuma recently appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee, comprised of several key ministries to address challenges around migration. We are aware that this issue is multi-faceted and can only be resolved by taking a holistic approach to all the relevant issues.

Measures will therefore to put in place to better regulate immigration into South Africa, while a Border Management Agency is being established to manage all ports of entry. We have transferred 350 SANDF soldiers to the Department of Home Affairs to boost the capacity of immigration officers at our border posts. Military personnel have also been deployed along the border in seven provinces to prevent border crime and illegal border crossings.

These interventions will no doubt go a long way to easing our migration issues. There is however, also greater room for honest conversations across society about the state of our nation. We dare not allow the legacy of colonialism, white minority rule and apartheid, which sought to divide and strip us of our humanity to triumph.

In Africa Month let us come together as one. Let us use the celebration of Africa and her people to actively encourage greater social cohesion and nation building, while also fostering African unity. Together we can strengthen the socio, cultural, economic and political relations among African nations.

Phumla Williams

Acting Cabinet Spokesperson

Photo: South African Defence Force soldiers secure a perimeter around a hostel in Manenberg as police conduct an operation involving house to house raids in the gang ridden area of Manenberg, on the Cape Flats of Cape Town, South Africa 21 May 2015. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

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