Mozambicans flee over the border

Mozambique has received nearly 20 000 citizens fleeing South Africa, said Deputy Foreign Minister Henrique Banze, adding that the government there had set up three reception centres around the capital Maputo.

More than 18 000 people had passed through the Ressano Garcia border

post, said Banze, while a further 1 850 people fleeing violence in South Africa’s province of KwaZulu-Natal had entered through the Ponta de Ouro border post.

The reception centres had been opened—at the border post, near the national airport and adjacent township Maputo River outside the city—to provide “temporary shelter to returning nationals who cannot be transported to their homes immediately,” he said.

The government has hired 19 buses to transport the migrants to their homes and half of the returnees who came through the Ponta de Ouro border post had been assisted, he said.

“We are using trucks to transport people who are returning through Ponta de Ouro because of the bad state of the road,” said Banze.

He denied reports that the Mozambican government had declared a state of emergency.

“It is a disaster, but we have not classified it as yet,” Banze said.

Police spokesperson Arnaldo Chefo said on Sunday the police were on high alert for retaliation attacks after Mozambicans were targeted in the South African violence.

“We are monitoring the situation and there have not been any cases of violence reported so far,” said Chefo.

On Friday, an anonymous SMSs had called for attacks on foreigners living in Mozambique.

Chefo said that security had also been increased at the South African embassy.

Disgrace

President Thabo Mbeki, meanwhile, called the attacks a “disgrace” on Sunday and said his government would act firmly to curb the bloodshed amid growing criticism from African nations.

At least 50 people have died and more than 25 000 have fled to refugee centres from the attacks, which have heightened fears for the stability of Africa’s largest economy.

In recent months the country has seen a wave of electricity outages, a surge in inflation and discontent over pro-business policies, to a background of uncertainty over political transition as Mbeki nears the end of his final term in 2009.

Mobs, armed with knives, stones and in some cases guns, began attacking African migrants in a Alexandra on May 11. The xenophobic violence has spread to other areas.

“We must acknowledge the events of the past two weeks as an absolute disgrace,” Mbeki said in a televised address, his first of the crisis. “Everything possible will be done to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

South Africa’s government and the ruling ANC have been criticised for their slow reaction to the unrest, the worst since apartheid ended 14 years ago, and for not adequately addressing the poverty widely blamed for sparking the bloodshed.

Mbeki reiterated his government’s position that a minority were responsible for the attacks and that they did not reflect the values of the majority of South Africa’s 50-million people.

Some poor South Africans accuse foreigners, many of whom are Zimbabweans who have fled an economic meltdown back home, of stealing jobs and fuelling violent crime.
Rising food and fuel prices have pushed tensions to breaking point.

There are growing calls for Mbeki’s government to take steps to quell the waves of refugees and asylum seekers lured by the chance to work in South African mines, factories and farms.

But Mbeki, speaking on the United Nations’s Africa Day, urged his citizens to be charitable to foreigners and said his nation’s prosperity was linked to that of the rest of Africa.

“We must remain firm in our commitment to work hard to achieve the goal of the renewal of our continent, understanding that in this circumstance an injury to one is an injury to all,” Mbeki said, vowing to resist calls to force migrants into camps.

ANC mobilises

Mbeki had issued several statements condemning the violence but had come under pressure to address the public, as his predecessor Nelson Mandela did during national crises.

South Africa’s neighbours have expressed concerns about the violence directed against their citizens, thousands of whom have returned home. The unrest has dented South Africa’s reputation as one of the most welcoming to immigrants and refugees.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa expressed shock that Zambians had been among those targeted by the mobs and pointedly reminded South Africans that his country and others on the continent played a key role in helping end white minority rule.

Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe said his government would offer land to Zimbabweans in South Africa who came home.

Appalled by the criticism, senior ANC officials fanned out across the Johannesburg region on Sunday to appeal for calm.

But party leader Jacob Zuma, frontunner to succeed Mbeki, received a rocky reception when he spoke at a meeting east of Johannesburg, where residents expressed frustration over the impact of immigration on housing, employment and crime.

“Tell them [other African leaders] to tell their people they must not harass us in our country,” a resident shouted at Zuma. “If you are a stumbling block, we are going to kick you away.”

But police said trouble spots were becoming calmer.

“We had a quiet evening last night with no reports of serious violence. The violence is cooling down now,” Andre Traut, police spokesperson in the Western Cape, said on Sunday.

Traut said many migrants were in makeshift refugee camps, where they were receiving blankets, food and clothing.

Police, backed by the military, were watching for fresh unrest. Earlier this week Mbeki authorised the army to help.

Officials in the tourism industry, one of the cornerstones of the economy, are worried that overseas visitors will delay or cancel trips to the country, which is scheduled to host the 2010 Soccer World Cup. An estimated half a million extra tourists are expected to visit South Africa for the championship. - Reuters, Sapa

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