African National Congress (ANC) deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe on Thursday said the police responded too slowly to the first xenophobic attacks in Alexandra.
This came as it was reported that anti-foreigner violence had spread to North West.
More than 40 people have been killed since the outbreak of xenophobic attacks on foreigners in Alexandra on May 12.
”When people live in squalid conditions like that it takes only one incident [to spark violence]. The response of our law enforcement was delayed in my view,” he told an International Media Forum in Johannesburg.
”The area where this problem started should have been cordoned off immediately, but the delay encouraged people in similar environments to wage similar attacks,” he said.
Motlanthe said the majority of Zimbabweans living in South Africa were ”people with better basic education”, while Mozambicans have skills as builders.
”Therefore these illicit attacks are from our own South African brothers and sisters who have not had the opportunity to acquire skills.”
North West police said on Thursday that thirty-five foreign nationals are being accommodated at Brits’ Okasie township police station following xenophobic attacks.
Spokesperson Inspector Brian Dlamini said 49 people were arrested on Wednesday night. ”They were part of a group that vandalised shops belonging to foreigners in the area.
”The violence erupted in phase two and three of Okasie and shops belonging to foreigners were looted and burned.”
Dlamini said no deaths were reported so far.
Meanwhile, South African troops prepared on Thursday to enter townships to help police end the wave of xenophobic attacks.
President Thabo Mbeki’s call for the army’s intervention was an acknowledgment that the attacks on foreigners had become a national crisis that threatened to destabilise Africa’s largest economy.
More than 15Ã‚Â 000 migrant workers and their families have fled to refugee camps after 11 days of attacks by mobs armed with clubs, knives and jugs of petrol. Several people have been burned to death and scores of shacks looted and torched.
Soldiers are expected to participate in joint operations with police, who have failed to prevent the anti-foreigner attacks from spreading from Johannesburg area shantytowns to other parts of the nation, including KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and North West.
”I think their [the army’s] role needs to be largely supportive, with the police in the front,” Hennie van Vuuren, an analyst with South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, said after Wednesday’s announcement by Mbeki.
Van Vuuren said the deployment did not indicate the police had lost control of the situation.
The attacks on African migrants, accused by many poor South Africans of taking scarce jobs and fuelling crime, has increased political instability at a time of power shortages, rising inflation and disaffection over Mbeki’s pro-business policies.
The South African currency weakened sharply earlier this week on the back of the violence.
Police said there had been no new reports of xenophobic attacks on Wednesday night in the area around Johannesburg.
But some foreigners are not waiting for authorities to gain the upper hand.
”We must leave, it is not safe here,” a Zimbabwean woman said on Wednesday as she left the Primrose informal settlement outside Johannesburg where gangs of youths burnt and looted migrants’ shacks.
Others, especially migrants from neighbouring Mozambique, are also making plans to leave South Africa, which has a population of about 50-million and is home to an estimated five million immigrants.
The biggest immigrant group — an estimated three million — are from neighbouring Zimbabwe. They have fled economic collapse at home and the violent political stand-off there since disputed March 29 elections.
South Africa’s reputation as a haven for immigrants and asylum seekers is in tatters, and there are growing fears that the crisis could dent the country’s lucrative tourism industry and cripple its hosting of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
Government officials have raised the possibility that the attacks were not spontaneous but organised, possibly for political reasons. Four community leaders are among the more than 400 people arrested in connection with the violence. — Sapa, Reuters