The anti-xenophobia march in which about 200 supporters took to the streets of Johannesburg on Tuesday was politically motivated, according to mayor Herman Mashaba’s office.
After several xenophobic attacks during anti-crime protests around the city this year, the African Diaspora Forum (ADF) led a march to the Library Gardens to demand an end to intolerance and violence against immigrants, with Gauteng Premier David Makhura addressing the crowd.
Many of the speakers, including Makhura, spoke out against statements made by Mashaba earlier this year, in which he lamented the scourge of crime in the inner city allegedly committed by illegal immigrants.
Makhura slammed the mayor’s “xenophobic” statements, calling them an instrument to agitate residents against foreign nationals.
“Do not worry about Mashaba. He is not the premier of Gauteng‚ the minister of home affairs or the president of the country. You do not need permission from him since these are issues dealt with at national government level‚” he said.
Mashaba’s statements against illegal immigrants were followed by community protests in and around the province last month, prompting Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba to conduct an outreach tour in the affected communities where he spoke out about the “irresponsible statements” made by political leaders who spoke out against foreigners.
The ADF also lodged an official complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission against the mayor for alleged hate speech and incitement of violence.
Mashaba has since disputed on numerous occasions that his statements were xenophobic when he spoke out against undocumented immigrants who he accused of hijacking some buildings in the Johannesburg CBD and “transforming them into a jungle”.
Responding to news of the march on Tuesday, Mashaba’s spokesperson Tony Taverna-Turisan said that the xenophobia accusations were purely for political gain and had nothing to do with fighting xenophobia.
Taversa-Turisan said Mashaba’s campaign to reduce crime in poor communities was not a war against foreigners but one against crime.
“We have to take a take very strong stance against crime in the city. With regard to Gigaba, the mayor has written three letters to him which have gone unanswered.
“He has been making a genuine effort to help with the challenges facing immigrants and he is being ignored constantly,” he said.