JOHANNESBURG – South African Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said a Zimbabwean Hyde Park gang was in custody, but his twit stirred furious reaction as some wondered suggested his mention of their nationality was relevant.
Mbalula who according to South Africa media has the penchant for tweets in his new job saw him accused of xenophobia on Sunday, although the minister strongly denied this.
He tweeted late on Sunday afternoon that five Zimbabwean nationals had been arrested in connection with the robbery of a jewellery store at the Hyde Park shopping centre in Sandton on Thursday.
He used the hashtag “
#WanyaTsotsi”, which is a bit of a rude way of telling criminals to get lost. It literally means “criminals will defecate” or any other less polite way you can imagine putting it. It’s a phrase Mbalula already tried to popularise in the years when he was deputy police minister.
Twitter users soon took him to task to challenge him on why the suspects’ nationality was relevant, with some going so far as to accuse him of stoking the fires of xenophobia.
The minister was not taking this lying down, as he tweeted two hours later: “Why shouldn’t I mention the nationality Why? When a South African is arrested elsewhere what do refer to him /here Mr And Miss somebody….”
He also said that he would only have been guilty of xenophobia if he had been generalising and making false accusations.
“Fanning flames of xenophobia is falsely accusing people of crime and generalizing as if it’s done by certain people only,” he wrote.
He said the fact that the suspects were Zimbabweans was relevant because of the need to work with law enforcement officials from Zimbabwe.
Mbalula also enjoyed many tweets in support, and others congratulating him. One person identifying as a Zimbabwean even told him that he was in favour of the arrests and how Mbalula had reported it since he had himself fallen victim to Zimbabwean criminals.
It is still not clear how much money or jewellery were stolen on Thursday from the centre, though shots were fired during the crime and getaway.
It’s expected the suspects will appear in court soon.