Civil society groups condemn “Operation Fiela”

Operation Fiela meant another violent attack within a month on African migrants and refugees.

Khayelitsha, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

The Right2Know Campaign has condemned the current raids happening around the country and has referred to them as “state sponsored xenophobia”. This follows a spate of raids in different parts of the country by the police accompanied by the military, traffic cops and immigration officials. The government has in a statement defended the raids in that the aim is to rid the country of illegal weapons, drug dens, prostitution rings and other illegal activities.
According to the statement from the government, ‘Operation Fiela – Reclaim’ is a multi disciplinary operation by various state entities led by Minister Je Radebe to ensure strict compliance with the various laws and regulations governing the country.
‘Fiela’ means “to sweep away” in Sesotho. Since the start of the operation, more than 800 undocumented migrants have been arrested across South Africa under Operation Fiela. A series of raids launched after last month’s xenophobic violence were centred on the provinces of KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. This meant another violent attack within a month on African migrants and refugees in these areas.
According to Right2Know Campaign provincial organizer, Vainola Makan the government is escalating the problem of xenophobic attacks by the mere presence of immigration officials going around asking for identification from people. The raids include traffic violations and criminal activities.
According to eyewitnesses at around 4am on the 13 of May a helicopter hovered above Taiwan taxi rank in Khayelitsha for about 2 minutes and in a matter of a minute or so, the major taxi rank, which has 16 taxi routes, was cordoned of. There were South African Police Services, Metro Police, the South African Defense Force, traffic cops and Im- migration officials. The immigration officials were randomly asking for identity
documents. This reminded many of the Apartheid government’s dompass raids of the 1970s.
Mike Nyarko who is originally from Ghana was one of the people who were asked for his identity. “I have never seen something like that before, they moved in so quick and in less than a minute, one could not get out of the taxi rank area,” said Mike as we sat for an interview in a salon next to a container where he sells fridges. Mike told Elitsha that an immigration official who was with the police walked up to him and asked for identity documents.

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Mike Nyarko outside of his shop at the Site C taxi rank. Picture by Mzi Velapi.

“I did not have my papers with me so they took me to a police van,” explained Mike. According to the 35 year-old father of two there was already a Zimbabwean who also did not have ‘papers’ and they later they brought in another Ghanaian who did not have ‘papers’. “Even the stopping and asking for iden ty documenta on from the people wasn’t random, they know who they were looking for, it had to do with the xenophobic a acks, they were looking for immigrants with- out papers,” said the Accra-born who now calls Rocklands in Mitchell’s Plain his new home. “They asked one South African guy for his iden ty documenta- on and when he said he doesn’t have it with him they asked for his address and he did not know it, they pushed him into the van. He tried to resist but he was beaten by the police”.

The stopping and asking for identity documentation from the people wasn’t random, they know who they are looking for.

Before he could go into the van, Mike called his South African wife to bring his ‘papers’. He told Elitsha that he spent about 2 hours in the van before his wife came. Nyarko said that most foreign nationals do not always have their documents with them all the me because one runs a risk of losing them. “I was mugged four days ago just a few metres from my house and if I had my papers with me, I would have been arrested today because they took everything from me”. Mike came to South Africa in 2000 and has stayed in Mitchell’s Plain for all this me. A total number of 6 foreign nationals were ar- rested during the operation.
The operation has come under severe criticism from organizations like People’s Coalition Against Xenophobia which includes Lawyers for Human Rights and a few COSATU unions.
According to the City of Cape Town traffic spokesman Richard Coleman, 34 taxis were impounded and 11 people with outstanding warrants were arrested. Coleman said about 780 fines for other various traffic offences were issued on the day.

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