Anti-foreigner rage explodes in South Afrca

May 20th, 2008 - 7:22 pm ICT by admin  

Johannesburg, May 20 (DPA) Shop owners in central Johannesburg battened down the hatches Tuesday as a wave of xenophobic violence that has claimed at least 23 lives in poor neighbourhoods in the past eight days spread through the city centre. Traders of mainly Asian origin, whose families have been living in South Africa for generations, rushed to shut up shop as mobs carrying iron bars and other crude weapons swarmed through the streets, threatening foreigners with violence.

The attackers, mostly poor South African men in their 20s and 30s, accuse migrants from neighbouring African countries of taking jobs and public housing, as well as being responsible for high crime levels.

Until now, downtown Johannesburg had been largely untouched by the violence that has ripped through squatter camps and poor neighbourhoods on the fringes of the city, and forced thousands of foreigners to flee for their lives to nearby police stations.

The attacks began in Alexandra township, north-east of the city, May 11 with residents going door to door in search of foreigners, torching their homes and looting their possessions.

In a new development, the Sowetan newspaper reported Tuesday that the owner of a construction company in eastern Johannesburg was killed after being accused of hiring foreign workers.

Aid agencies and opposition politicians have called on the government to declare a state of emergency and deploy the army into the affected areas as police come under live fire, forcing them to retreat on occasion.

Mbhazima Shilowa, premier of Gauteng province, in which Johannesburg is located, said: “The current situation, dire as it is, can be handled without resorting to the declaration of a state of emergency.”

As the situation threatens to spread to other cities, including Cape Town, four police platoons have been drafted in to bolster the security effort, a national police spokeswoman said.

Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk said Tuesday he was “quite concerned” about the effects of the attacks on tourism.

“They have the potential to impact negatively on the (African) market,” he said.

The government has denounced the attacks as mainly acts of criminality “hiding behind xenophobia” and established a task force to examine its causes.

South Africa’s already overcrowded townships have been bloated by the influx of illegal migrants into Africa’s powerhouse economy since the end of apartheid.

The migrants provide unwelcome competition for low-paid jobs in a country where official unemployment is running at 23 percent but is thought to be as high as 40 percent.

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