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Wave of hate engulfs Jo'burg

Mail & Guardian Online reporters and Sapa, Mail & Guardian Online reporter, Reuters and Sapa

A wave of xenophobic attacks spread through Johannesburg townships on Monday. Mobs beat foreigners and set some ablaze in scenes reminiscent of apartheid-era violence. A total of 22 people have now been killed in the violence directed at immigrants around Johannesburg, which began a week ago.

A wave of xenophobic attacks spread through Johannesburg townships on Monday. Mobs beat foreigners and set some ablaze in scenes reminiscent of apartheid-era violence.

A total of 22 people have now been killed in the violence directed at immigrants around Johannesburg which began a week ago, South African police said on Monday.

“An update has shown 22 have been killed since the start of the violence last week and 217 have been arrested,” police spokesperson Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said.

Two people were killed and more than two dozen shacks were torched in the Tembisa township near Johannesburg on Monday, the South African Broadcasting Corporation said.

On Monday morning, a Mozambican national was found dead in Makause informal settlement in Germiston, police said. Another two people, also Mozambican, were severely beaten in attacks there.

“They discovered another body in the informal settlement overnight and another two Mozambicans were beaten up,” said Inspector William Masondo, spokesperson for the nearby Primrose police station.

He said the injured men sustained severe head injuries after being stoned and, although the area appeared quiet, police were present in the hopes of quashing further attacks.

Barricades

In Kya Sands, north of Johannesburg, police were by midday on Monday trying to clear burning barricades from the road leading into the township. A mob had earlier set alight pieces of wood, furniture and even gas bottles to prevent police from passing.

Stones and bottles were thrown at police officers and members of the media, and paramedics on scene reported hearing guns fired. Paramedics on scene had to retreat as they were not wearing bulletproof vests.

Police retaliated by firing rubber bullets, and when more police officers arrived to start clearing the road, the mob retreated towards the township.

According to a Mail & Guardian Online reporter on the scene, a three-year-old girl was caught in the crowd’s rush to safety and sustained serious head injuries.

As the situation was still tense, police were refusing to escort frightened residents back into the township to collect their belongings.

Meanwhile, there was further unrest in a “tense” Reiger Park on the East Rand, said spokesperson Sasa Lengene, on her way to investigate a report of an attack in the Ramaphosa informal settlement.

Central Methodist church Bishop Paul Verryn said at least an extra 300 people had flooded out of the church in the Johannesburg CBD when the doors were opened early on Monday.

He said a group of armed people had approached the church, which has a long-standing reputation as a shelter for asylum seekers and refugees, on Sunday night, but police intervention sent them away.

“It is so sad,” said Verryn. “They need security, blankets, food and counselling. But most of all they just need to be treated as human beings.”

According to a police report late on Sunday, at least 200 people had been arrested in connection with the weekend’s attacks, which the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa has called “un-African”.

“We call upon the government of South Africa to use all its powers in law to stop this un-African behaviour by misguided people who have lost all sense of ubuntu, which essentially says strangers are always welcomed with open arms, treated with respect and protected in an African home,” the organisation said.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, worried that attacks might spread to industrial workplaces, has decided to launch a campaign to educate workers against the dangers of criminalising foreign nationals and “portraying other African immigrants as undesirable people”.

‘Crisis, what crisis?’

The Democratic Alliance has reiterated its call for military intervention, saying the situation is uncontrollable as many informal settlements are being attacked simultaneously. It also said money spent on arms could have been better spent securing the country’s borders.

“This is a typical Mbeki situation of ‘Crisis, what crisis?’, where real action is not taken and the situation is getting worse,” Jack Bloom, DA spokesperson for Gauteng, told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday morning.

“Setting up a panel is a long-term solution. We need to take action now and push for law and order. The government failed to act on the first attacks that broke out in Atteridgeville [west of Pretoria]. This is why the situation got out of control like it did,” he said.

“The police [force] is overstretched with the attacks at the moment. We need a show of force to stabilise the situation.”

According to Bloom, refugee camps should be set up.

“The food crisis and the competition for resources is definitely a factor that triggered the situation. Gauteng is also the smallest province with the most rapid population growth due to migration, nationally and internationally.”

He said setting up a panel to investigate the causes for the attacks—as announced by Mbeki on Sunday afternoon—is a “quite leisurely” solution that does not address the situation on the ground.

“A panel can try to find long-term solutions for the service-delivery problems, corruption and crime. But the situation is getting out of control. Criminals are jumping on the bandwagon and we are seeing various copycat situations that need to be stopped,” he said.

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