/ 20 May 2008

SA moves to quell xenophobic attacks

South Africa’s police and the African National Congress (ANC) intensified efforts on Tuesday to quell anti-foreigner violence that has killed at least 24 people and sent thousands of African immigrants into refugee shelters.

Police have struggled for over a week to end the violent attacks on foreigners, who are accused by many in South Africa’s poor townships of stealing jobs and fuelling a wave of violent crime.

Local media said two people were killed overnight.

One person died and two were critically injured in fresh xenophobic attacks in the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Boksburg on Tuesday, the Ekurhuleni metro police said.

Spokesperson Zweli Dlamini said the violence began on Monday night when foreigners were kicked out of their shacks and attacked.

The shacks were then set alight.

”Hundreds of foreigners are now housed at the local community centre. The number is rapidly escalating and we might have to look for another shelter.”

They have been provided with food, blankets, healthcare and security.

An Actonville businessman was killed after being accused of hiring foreign workers, the Sowetan reported on Tuesday.

The man, the owner of a construction company in Benoni, had his house set ablaze by a mob who accused him of not hiring local people. He was killed in the early hours of Monday.

Actonville police spokesperson Constable Godin Nyathi said the man died inside his burning house.

He said the group that attacked the man came from the local hostel and from the Emlotheni and Emandleni informal settlements.

Police said on Tuesday that nearly 300 people have now been arrested following the outbreak of xenophobic violence.

Johannesburg police spokesperson Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said 40 people were arrested on Monday night during more flare-ups of violence in the east of the city, bringing the total number to 297.

”Forty people were arrested in various parts of the East Rand,” he said.

Several foreigners have been burnt to death, women have been raped and scores of shops and homes looted during the violence.

The ANC said the situation was coming under control after it sent officials into townships to appeal for an end to the attacks. Police also increased their deployment to trouble spots.

”The situation is being managed. Many ANC people are on the ground … and things are quietening down,” ANC spokesperson Jesse Duarte told 702 Talk Radio.

The unrest has increased political instability at a time of electricity shortages, rising inflation and disaffection among the poor over President Thabo Mbeki’s pro-business policies.

Lure of work

South Africa, with a population of about 50-million, is home to an estimated five million immigrants. Foreigners from poorer countries have been lured by work in mines, farms and homes and by one of the world’s most liberal immigration and refugee policies.

The biggest group — an estimated three million — are from Zimbabwe. They have fled economic collapse at home and the violent political stand-off since disputed March 29 elections gives them little incentive to return home.

Mbeki’s critics say his softly-softly approach to Zimbabwe has done too little to end the crisis there.

Zimbabweans and other immigrants say that far from being criminals they are more often the victims of crime. Thousands of immigrants have taken refuge in police stations, churches and government offices, rights groups say.

Mbeki and ANC leader Jacob Zuma have called for an end to the attacks, which have dented South Africa’s reputation for tolerance and threaten its hopes of luring an estimated half-million foreign visitors for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The violence indicates rising anger among those who complain they have been left out by Mbeki’s investor-friendly policies.

”Poor and ineffective governance had created a tinder box of unmet expectations, which exploded in Alexandra and has now spread to several other areas,” the South African Institute of Race Relations said in a statement on Tuesday.

ANC treasurer general Mathews Phosa called at the weekend for an early election to end Mbeki’s rule. The South African leader lost the ANC leadership to Zuma last year and has to step down in 2009. Zuma is the frontrunner to succeed him. — Reuters, Sapa, AFP