Press statement: LHR condemns ongoing xenophobic violence in Durban and calls for restraint

Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) strongly condemns the ongoing intolerance and blatant disregard for the rights of foreign nationals living in South Africa – most recently in Durban.

Most concerning is the use of aggressive measures including rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons by police to disperse the roughly 300 foreign nationals who defied the revocation of their permission to protest against recent xenophobic attacks in the area.

Unfortunately, foreign nationals are not given a platform to voice their fears and concerns. These groups have legitimate fears and it is vital that they be allowed to raise these publicly with the support of South African authorities.

According to media reports, the marchers’ path was blocked by about 30 riot police who used these aggressive methods as the group walked towards them. The group was meant to demonstrate before Easter but police withdrew permission to protest amid threats of violence against protesters by several South African groups.

LHR was alarmed at the heavy-handedness of officers dealing with demonstrators at the Durban City Hall on Tuesday when they should have instead been protecting them.

The right to protest is a constitutional one and the proper channels were followed before the anti-xenophobia march was undertaken. That permission to proceed with the march was withdrawn at the eleventh hour was an affront to this constitutional right and echoed ongoing xenophobic comments and actions by senior government officials. Recently we noted the worrying comments by King Zwelithini that “foreigners must go back home”. These types of generalised and xenophobic statements have no place in a democratic society and LHR welcomes calls for Zwelithini to re-examine and explain the remarks.

LHR calls for compassion and tolerance in the face of ongoing tensions so that displaced foreign nationals of Durban’s violence may return home after being accommodated at a makeshift camp at Isipingo Beach.

LHR is monitoring the situation in Durban and will be assisting affected foreign nationals. Those needing assistance are encouraged to contact LHR’s Durban office on 031 301 0531.