/ 31 May 2008

Toll from xenophobic attacks rises

Anti-immigrant violence in South Africa has killed 62 people and wounded 670 this month, police said on Saturday, raising an earlier toll of 56 dead after several victims died in hospital.

”In total, at 6am on Thursday morning, we had 62 dead people and 670 injured,” national police spokesperson Sally de Beer said after a spate of violence that started two weeks ago subsided.

”Some of the people that were injured died in hospital,” she said, adding that there was ”no report of any major incidents recently”.

Attacks broke out in a poor neighbourhood of Johannesburg on May 11 and spread across the country, targeting immigrants including Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, whom locals blamed for taking their jobs.

De Beer said 52 of those killed were in Gauteng province, where the country’s economic capital, Johannesburg, and the administrative capital, Pretoria, are located.

Police arrested 1 433 people, most of whom remained in detention on Saturday, she said. The government announced on Thursday that special courts would be set up to try those accused of xenophobic attacks.

The government said 30 000 people were displaced in the violence, while NGOs put the figure at 100 000. Immigrants fled back to their home countries or sheltered in refuges provided by authorities as neighbouring states evacuated their nationals.

South Africa’s government acknowledged an urgent need to step up the fight against poverty and unemployment in the wake of the mob violence.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the government said it ”accepts that the pace of service delivery needs to be expedited … to address the developmental needs of our communities”.

It said genuine concerns about access to basic provisions such as water as well as jobs were being exploited to justify attacks on foreigners.

”Whilst acknowledging the urgent need to accelerate its programmes for alleviating poverty, unemployment and other forms of socio-economic deprivation, the government appeals to all our communities to reject any agitation from those who wish to reduce this country into a lawless country,” it said.

A group of Nigerians staged a peaceful protest on Friday outside the South African High Commission in Lagos against attacks on their compatriots in South Africa, witnesses said.

The state-run News Agency of Nigeria reported last week that dozens of Nigerians resident in the Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville districts in Johannesburg had been attacked and their shops vandalised or looted.

Thorough investigation

Meanwhile, the United Nations independent expert on racism on Friday urged South Africa to bring to justice those responsible for the recent xenophobic violence.

”I condemn these acts in the strongest terms,” special rapporteur Doudou Diene said as he called on South African authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and to prevent the spread of atrocities.

It is crucial, he said, for migration policies to help integrate refugees and migrants both economically and socially.

South Africa’s own history of apartheid and institutional racism made it even more necessary to be vigilant against xenophobia and to encourage political will to combat it worldwide, he added.

”While I take note of the efforts of the government of South Africa to address the crisis, I call upon authorities not only to carry out a thorough investigation of the acts of violence in order to bring the perpetrators to justice and prevent the spread of atrocities, but also to stimulate a collective reflection on the root causes of these phenomena,” he said. — AFP