Leaders of the Coalition of Civics Against Xenophobia have accused the South African government of bias and hypocrisy after the office of the Presidency refused to accept their memorandum upon their arrival at the Union Buildings.
On Thursday, a group of about 300 demonstrators consisting of citizens of other African countries, immigrants and people born in South Africa made their way from Burgers Park to the Union Buildings where protest leaders wanted to hand over a memorandum of demands.
A large police contingent watched over the protesters from behind the fence that separates the park from the Union Building entrance. Police informed protest leaders that no one from the Office of the Presidency was willing to accept the memorandum.
"This is a national crisis where in the past people have lost their lives, where people's livelihoods have been destroyed. And for the South African government to refuse to accept our memorandum indicates to us that they are not a caring government. It shows us as foreigners exactly what the South African government thinks of us and it shows their lack of commitment to tackle this sensitive issue," said Essie-Prince Mpinda a leader representing the Congolese community.
Earlier in the day, Themba Ncalo, the chairperson of the Coalition of Civics Against Xenophobia, said that the coalition is made up of South Africans as well as people from a number of countries. "Our main aim today will be to march to the Union Buildings and deliver our memorandum. We are going to show that South Africa is not a country which promotes xenophobia," said Ncalo.
The organisers of the march also accused authorities of a lack of co-operation with the march organisers, after the protest was denied permission by metro police.
"It's strange that a few weeks ago permission was granted to a group promoting violence and xenophobia, and now that we wish to stage a peaceful demonstration we are denied," said Ncalo.
Despite not getting the relevant permission the march went ahead and was escorted by a contingent of SAPS members on foot and in police vehicles.
Ahmed Abdi, from Somali, who was in Pretoria West when violence broke out in a Somali neighbourhood during the anti-immigrant protest a few weeks ago, joined today's protest with the aim of countering the anti-immigrant sentiment in his neighbourhood. He said that some Somalis have returned to their spaza shops in the townships after vacating them following the violence, but they are living in a constant state of fear and uncertainty.
Ali Tarar, the vice-president of the Pakistan South Africa Association, wanted to remind people who were looting shops and attacking owners that they were destroying families. "We are saying that when a shop is looted it is not just the owner who is affected. That man is supporting an entire family and in some cases two families. With this looting they have lost everything, including the ability to provide for their families," he said.
Wrapped in the bright blue flag of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mpinda appealed to the South African government to stop denying that xenophobia is a pressing issue which needs to be adequately handled. "You cannot paint an entire community with the same brush. If people are involved in crime, we urge the authorities to arrest these people," said Prince Mpinda. "A lot of the Congolese in South Africa have fled the country because they are in opposition to the Kabila government and as such are fleeing violence and death. For them to seek safety here and still experience this xenophobia is truly regrettable. We are now a no-land people. We cannot return home and we are not wanted here."
This article was filed after government work hours and so it was not possible to get comment from the metro police and the Presidency in time for publication. We will attempt to get comment in the morning.