South African troops have killed a man in a Johannesburg township during operations to quell anti-immigrant violence, the army said on Saturday, as they deployed on the streets for the first time since apartheid.
“We unfortunately had an incident where a member of the public was shot when he pointed a firearm at a soldier. He was shot dead,” said army spokesperson General Kwena Mangope, adding that the death occurred on Friday evening.
Soldiers were sent on to Johannesburg’s streets on Thursday for the first time since the end of white rule in 1994 in a bid to help stem a tide of violence that has seen mobs of armed youths attack foreigners.
At least 43 have been killed, more than 500 arrested and 17Â 000 displaced since the unrest broke out in Johannesburg nearly two weeks ago.
Under apartheid, the army was frequently called upon to help police put down civil unrest by blacks in poor townships during protests against the country’s racist white regime which often ended in bloodshed.
The army said Friday’s incident happened at about 6pm (4pm GMT) in the East Rand area, an outlying suburb of Johannesburg.
“A male was allegedly assaulting a woman. Our men confronted him and then he pointed a firearm at them,” Mangope added.
He said troops had deployed in support of police during search and seizure operations during which an unspecified number of arrests were made.
President Thabo Mbeki bowed to pressure to call in troops on Wednesday after a request from the police force, which has been overwhelmed by the unrest which has spread to seven of the country’s nine provinces.
Some suggested the call to the military was an overreaction and raised fears about using troops who were untrained in crowd control.
About 200 soldiers assisted police for the first time on Thursday with morning arrest and search operations in central Johannesburg and they deployed again on Friday, the army said.
Foreigners in South Africa, many of whom have fled economic meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe, are being blamed for sky-high crime rates and depriving locals of jobs.
South Africa made its first public apology Friday for a wave of attacks, with Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka voicing the government’s concern during a visit to Nigeria.
“We are very much concerned and apologise for all the inconveniences that the incidents have caused,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said in Abuja, Nigeria.
Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils admitted Friday the government had been aware of the threat of anti-immigrant sentiment but had been taken by surprise by the ferocity of the attacks.
“Of course we were aware there was something brewing. It is one thing to know there is a social problem and another thing to know when that outburst will occur,” he told South African Broadcasting Corporation radio.
The violence, which has done untold damage to South African’s reputation as the “rainbow nation,” is also taking its toll on the country’s economy. – AFP