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Rights body asks S.African police to protect foreign traders

A South African rights body urged police Friday to protect foreign small business owners who risk being ejected from townships by domestic competitors.

Lawyers for Human Rights accused the Greater Gauteng Business Forum, a grouping of local businesses that recently gave foreign merchants an ultimatum to get out or face “drastic measures”, of being “motivated by xenophobia”.

“The police are tasked with protecting all persons in the country and this protection must extend to protecting foreign individuals from this kind of harassment and intimidation,” the rights body said.

“We are very concerned that the police response in some instances has so far given them a green light to continue their campaign of intimidation.”

The business forum recently distributed eviction letters to foreign traders in townships around the commercial hub Johannesburg, accusing them of undercutting prices.

The letter gave foreign merchants seven days to evacuate their premises, and threatens that “failure to abide by this humble request will result in drastic measures being taken against you.”

“The law does not empower private individuals to decide who is entitled to reside in the country or operate a business,” said Lawyers for Human Rights.

“Only the Department of Home Affairs is authorised to investigate whether a foreigner is residing legally in the country, while other state institutions are empowered to authorise and regulate business.”

Police were not available for comment.

Xenophobic attacks across South Africa in May 2008 left 62 people dead and caused thousands to flee their homes.

In a country with an official unemployment rate of 25 percent and high levels of poverty, struggling South Africans have taken to venting their anger on foreigners, mostly Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Nigerians and Somalis, accusing them of taking their jobs and committing crimes.