South Africa: Mayor Fails to Produce Evidence That 'Foreigners' Are Behind Gqeberha Land Occupations

Mayor Nqaba Bhanga has been criticised by civil society for placing immigrants' lives at risk by making unsubstantiated inflammatory comments

Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Nqaba Bhanga has accused "foreigners" of selling land for illegal occupations.

Immigrant community organisations say the mayor's statements may trigger xenophobic violence.

We asked the mayor to produce evidence for his statements but he has not.

We visited the places where the mayor said "foreigners" were involved but local residents were baffled by the mayor's comments.

Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay Nqaba Bhanga has been accused of inciting xenophobia and placing immigrants' lives at risk after making inflammatory comments at a special council meeting on 30 April.

"In Bayland, foreigners are selling land to South Africans. The police are investigating," Bhanga was quoted in the Weekend Post as saying. "Foreigners hired bulldozers and are selling land to our people. In Perseverance, land has been sold by foreigners and there is nothing we can do. In Kamvelihle, they are selling land to people."

Bhanga said a human settlements report showed that an estimated 30,000 households had "invaded" public and municipal land since 2018.

Bhanga told GroundUp, "Criminal and political elements have hijacked and encouraged land invasions across the Metro. The information presented to me by SAPS has indicated that there are foreigners involved in some of these invasions. My comments were not a blanket statement attributing all such invasions to foreigners."

Police spokesperson Colonel Priscilla Naidu would not confirm whether police were investigating such cases. She referred us back to the mayor for comment.

The mayor's spokesperson Morne Steyn referred GroundUp to Councillor Werner Senekal in the mayor's office who did not respond to our emails asking for evidence for his comments about immigrants being behind land occupations.

Veliswa Ngqoko, a resident of Bayland informal settlement (which is the only informal settlement in Perseverence), said, "The only foreigners we know of are shop owners. They are not involved in selling land. They are here at our own invitation. They sell groceries to locals."

A shack owner in Nomakanjane informal settlement in Kamvelihle, who did not want to be named, said, "How can I buy land from a foreigner when I know that this is municipal land? This settlement was established after years of fighting running battles with the police and the municipality as we demanded houses."

Secretary General for the Community of African Nations in South Africa (CANISA) Abdulrafiu Olatunji said Bhanga should come forward with evidence so they can investigate.

"We need to know the foreigners selling land to locals so that we confront them in order to address the issue before it creates unrest in the community," said Olatunji. "We need facts."

Olatunji said the mayor's comments "may trigger an attack on migrants".

Chairman for the Zimbabwe Migrants Support Network Chris Mapingure said, "We are shocked to hear such utterances from him as we believe his office is there to unite people. This message can result in xenophobic attacks. We appeal to the mayor to revisit his speech."

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