Anti-Immigrant Violence Continues in South Africa – By Barry Bearak, New York Times

May 19th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

JOHANNESBURG — Violence against immigrants, like some windswept fire, spread across one neighborhood after another here in one of South Africa’s main cities at the weekend, and the police said the mayhem left at least 12 people dead — beaten by mobs, shot, stabbed or burned alive. (more…)

JOHANNESBURG — Violence against immigrants, like some windswept fire, spread across one neighborhood after another here in one of South Africa’s main cities at the weekend, and the police said the mayhem left at least 12 people dead — beaten by mobs, shot, stabbed or burned alive.

The violence continued to rage on Monday, as police fired rubber bullets and made arrests to try to quell the violence in and around Johannesburg, and said the death toll had reached 22, The Associated Press reported.

Thousands of panicked foreigners — many of them Zimbabweans who have fled their own country’s economic collapse — have now deserted their ramshackle dwellings and tin-walled squatter hovels to take refuge in churches and police stations.

On Monday, men wielding clubs and sticks patrolled along the road near one camp — apparently South Africans trying to prevent foreigners from returning, The A.P. said.

This latest outbreak of xenophobia began a week ago in the historic township of Alexandra and has since spread to other areas in and around Johannesburg, including Cleveland, Diepsloot, Hilbrow, Tembisa, Primrose, Ivory Park and Thokoza.

Amid so much violence, the police were spread thin, sending in squads of officers in armored vehicles. “We are using all available resources and will call in reinforcements if the need arises,” a police spokesman, Govindswamy Mariemuthoo, told reporters.President Thabo Mbeki said Sunday that he would set up a panel of experts to investigate the causes of the violence. Jacob Zuma, the president of the governing African National Congress and the man presumed to succeed Mr. Mbeki next year, called the attacks on foreigners a matter of national shame.

“We should be the last people to have this problem of having a negative attitude towards our brothers and sisters who come from outside,” Mr. Zuma said.

Many of South Africa’s current leaders sought shelter in neighboring countries during the apartheid years and were deeply embarrassed by the violence.

Newspaper editorials have called the outbursts a matter of using immigrants as scapegoats for South Africa’s problems. The official unemployment rate is 23 percent. Food prices have risen sharply. The crime rate is among the highest in the world.

And yet South Africa, with the most prosperous economy in the region, is a magnet that draws a continuing stream of job seekers from Malawi, Mozambique and elsewhere. An estimated three million Zimbabweans have sought refuge in their neighbor to the south, many of them fleeing here in recent months as Zimbabwe’s economy has utterly collapsed and political violence has intensified.

Mobs of South Africans shout: “Who are you? Where are you from?” as they maraud through the narrow streets they share with immigrants. They order people from their homes, steal their belongings and put padlocks on the houses.

Shops and businesses — many of them owned by Zimbabweans, Somalis and Pakistanis — have been looted. Many victims are legal residents with all the proper immigration documents. Some are being assaulted by neighbors they have known for years. However genuine the rage against immigrants, criminals have also made crafty use of the opportunity.

The police said they arrested more than 200 people over the weekend.

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