Joburg riots

Image via Twitter: David Tembe @AsktheChiefKMPD

Bheki Cele tells Joburg rioters to “behave”, says vigilantism is no excuse

Not far away from where Cele was addressing the media, police officers opened fire on rioters with rubber bullets.

Joburg riots

Image via Twitter: David Tembe @AsktheChiefKMPD

Police Minister, Bheki Cele, has called on disgruntled residents to cease from rioting in the streets of Johannesburg, adding that the excuse of vigilantism would not save them from the long arm of the law.

Cele, who was conducting a site visit in downtown Joburg, amongst the ruins left in the wake of wanton destruction and looting which had erupted on Sunday evening, promised to clamp down on the unmitigated criminality. Flanked by senior South African Police Service (SAPS) officials, Cele warned residents against taking matters into their own hands.

Joburg riots spread across the CBD, as looting intensifies

It’s alleged that the riots, which have embattled the province of Gauteng since last week, are the result of inflamed xenophobic tensions. In Tshwane, the scene erupted in fire last week, when a local taxi driver was allegedly gunned down by a foreign national.

In Johannesburg, a series of police raids, intended to confiscate counterfeit goods from vendors in the CBD, was met with fierce resistance. Shop owners, most of whom are foreign nationals, fought back in August, pelting police with stones and petrol bombs.

Law enforcement agencies and political figureheads slammed the lawlessness and promised retribution. A series of follow-up raids resulted in the deportation of hundreds of undocumented immigrants, causing outcry amongst Johannesburg’s diverse and dense foreign national community. Foreign nationals argued that the South African government was targeting them unfairly and thereby trampling their human rights.

The question of xenophobia

While the reason for the most recent explosion of violence in Joburg is still unclear, xenophobia, which has been bubbling across the region, is regarded as one of the fundamental factors. Cele, however, refused to be drawn into the speculation, saying instead:

“That [xenophobia] is used as an excuse. It’s pure criminality; people looting and using that as ‘xenophobia’. There is nothing that has sparked this conflict between South Africans and foreign nationals. We are dealing with criminality rather than xenophobia at the present moment.”

Various reports, especially from the unrest in Tshwane, indicated that rioters were looking to drag drug dealers out of their hideouts as a form of vigilantism. This has also been rubbished by Cele, who said:

“Criminality is there. People looting and using that [vigilantism] as an excuse, hoping they will be brought sympathy, saying they are fighting on behalf of SAPS – we can do it for ourselves. They must behave [and] stop [doing] those things.”

Cele added that more boots would be put on the ground in order to quell the dissidence. Not far away from where Cele was addressing the media, police officers opened fire on rioters with rubber bullets.

It’s also been reported that residents and looters clashed with deadly force in Hillbrow earlier, resulting in a shooting which placed the precinct on lockdown.