'Operation Fiela is not only about foreign nationals'

Minister Malusi Gigaba says claims foreign nationals are being targeted through the police raids is unfounded.

FILE. Police and members from SANDF launched a massive raid at the Jeppestown hostel, searching for illegal weapons, drugs and stolen goods on 21 April 2015. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba says the outcry that foreign nationals are being targeted through Operation Fiela is unfounded.

The deportation of more than 200 people arrested during an inner city raid at the Central Methodist Church and other buildings in the Johannesburg CBD last week was halted for two weeks after a court settlement between Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the state on Tuesday.

The court has ordered police to allow the LHR to consult with those arrested, to inquire about claims of human rights abuse and check if legitimate asylum seekers are being detained.

Gigaba says Operation Fiela is about much more than the foreign nationals.

"The outcry about foreign nationals is therefore in our own opinion unfounded. I think the concern should be whether there's any abuse of human rights, either of South Africans or the foreign nationals concerned."

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The minister says government can't be expected to sit back and do nothing.

"It would be incorrect of government to sit back and say we've seen a spate of violence taking place, illegal weapons and unlicensed firearms brandished in public, and we say we're not going to do anything. There were also reports of arms being possessed by foreign nationals."

The minister says Operation Fiela will continue across the country over the next few months.

More than 800 undocumented migrants have been arrested across South Africa in the past three weeks under Operation Fiela, a series of raids launched after last month's xenophobic violence, which was centred on the provinces of KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng.

The violence, which ended after troops were sent to affected areas, flared up after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini said in remarks reported by local media that foreigners should leave South Africa.

Zwelithini has since said his comments were misinterpreted.

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At the same time, LHR says it's concerned that government is not following proper processes when it comes to the deportation of foreigners.

LHR's Wayne Ncube says deportation is a long process, and government's announcement that 200 immigrants would be deported shortly after their arrest has raised serious suspicions.

"Some of these deportations were planned for tomorrow, and there's such little turnaround time that procedurally all the things that are meant to happen in terms of law, it's a worry that these things are not happening."

The human rights organisation also says it will investigate the legality of the raids because it believes the action also failed to comply with the law.

Additional reporting by Reuters.