/ 24 May 2008

‘Xenophobia hurts like apartheid’

Thousands of people marched through Johannesburg on Saturday, calling for an end to the violence that has killed at least 50 African migrants and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Demonstrators carrying placards saying ”Xenophobia hurts like apartheid” and ”We stand against xenophobia” brought traffic to a standstill in Johannesburg’s city centre.

People in Hillbrow, home to many African immigrants, cheered the march, which was organised by churches and labour unions.

Police said townships around Johannesburg were quiet but shops were looted and burnt outside Cape Town late on Friday.

The South African government has been criticised for its slow reaction to the violence, the worst since apartheid ended 14 years ago, and for not addressing the poverty that is widely blamed for the bloodshed.

President Thabo Mbeki said South Africans should not turn on other Africans and pledged that his government was committed to ending the violence.

”Today we are faced with a disgrace, a humiliation as a nation in that we have allowed a handful of people to commit crimes against other Africans living in our country,” Mbeki said on visit to a mission school in the Eastern Cape.

The violence started in Alexandra township on May 11, and has spread to Cape Town and Durban.

Police said at least 50 people had been killed in areas around Johannesburg. More than 25 000 had been driven from their homes in 13 days of attacks by mobs who have stabbed, clubbed and burnt migrants from other parts of Africa whom they accuse of taking jobs and fuelling crime.


Police said townships around Johannesburg were quiet on Saturday and in South Africa’s premier tourism destination of Cape Town security forces were monitoring several flashpoints after anti-foreigner violence continued during the night.

Superintendent Andre Traut said shops were looted and burnt in Du Noon squatter settlement and in Kraaifontein outside Cape Town, as well as the city’s largest township, Khayelitsha, where an estimated one million people live.

”Most of the incidents [on Friday night] occurred in Khayelitsha, where we had our hands full to protect the community,” Traut said. Most foreigners left the area voluntarily or were escorted by police.

South Africa’s foreign minister said on Friday the violence was embarrassing for the government and created a ”very bad image” for the country. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told Reuters in Moscow that the government would deal decisively with it.

Manala Manzini, head of the National Intelligence Agency, has said that people linked to former apartheid security forces are stoking the violence.

Earlier this week, Mbeki authorised the army to help quell the violence, which comes amid power shortages and growing social discontent which have rattled investors in Africa’s biggest economy.

Officials in the tourism industry fear overseas visitors will stay away from a country that hopes to draw half a million extra tourists for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

10 000 displaced in Cape Town

More than 10 000 foreigners have been displaced in Cape Town, the city’s disaster management unit said on Saturday.

Spokesperson Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said the unit had accommodated about 10 000 people since Thursday, but hundreds more were seeking shelter at police stations.

”We are providing food, blankets, mattresses and tents,” Solomons-Johannes said.

Police reported that 200 people had been arrested on Friday night and Saturday morning throughout the Western Cape in connection with the attacks.

Solomons-Johannes said buses were ready to evacuate people from the Cape Town central business district should the need arise.

Meanwhile, Gauteng police reported that townships surrounding Johannesburg had quietened down.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR on Friday estimated the number of displaced in South Africa at 17 000, adding that ”a very large percentage” of these were Zimbabweans.

Official Mozambican media on Saturday reported that 15 000 Mozambicans living in South Africa had returned to their home country.

Cape Town foreigners were also contemplating going back to their countries of birth and disaster management was discussing with the Home Affairs Department about assisting them do to do so.

However, any decision on long-term solutions for the immigrants lay with the Home Affairs Department, Solomon-Johannes said.

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on May 15, four days after the first attacks in Alexandra, said a plan was in place to return all displaced people, foreign and South African, to their houses before the end of that week. – Reuters, Sapa