South Africa military begins anti-xenophobia deployment

May 23rd, 2008 - 11:43 am ICT by admin  

Johannesburg, May 23 (DPA) South Africa’s military began to deploy in the poor communities around Johannesburg, where a 12-day orgy of xenophobic violence targeting African migrants has killed 42 people. Soldiers Thursday provided backup for police during a raid on three workers’ hostels east of Johannesburg that netted 28 suspects and army helicopters were seen in the sky over Alexandra informal settlement, north-east of Johannesburg, in the morning.

The deployment came a day after President Thabo Mbeki gave the nod for the military to be called in to help end the attacks that have displaced around 25,000 people in the worst violence in South Africa since the 1990s.

Most of the displaced have been sheltering at police stations and civic centres but a growing number have packed their bags for home.

Mozambique said more than 10,000 of its nationals had returned home in recent days. Migrants from other African countries, including Zimbabwe and Malawi, have also been boarding buses out of the country, citing fears for their safety.

The exodus comes despite relative calm in and around Johannesburg over the past two nights. Fresh attacks were reported in one particularly volatile squatter camp east of the city Thursday but no injuries.

In Pretoria, a college reported that leaflets ordering foreigners home were being circulated while attacks on foreigners were also reported in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State provinces.

A Mozambican national was shot dead and two buses burnt near Secunda in Mpumalanga, while Pakistani traders were attacked in Free State province, the SAPA news agency reported.

In Durban, a 23-year-old Malawian was shot in the stomach as hundreds of immigrants gathered outside a police station for fear of possible attacks, SAPA reported. He was hospitalised in serious but stable condition.

While condemning the attacks, the state has downplayed the xenophobic component, instead repeatedly hinting at a political hidden hand.

“We believe that as South Africa prepares for another national election early next year, the so-called black-on-black violence that we witnessed prior to our first election in 1994 has deliberately been unleashed and orchestrated,” National Intelligence Agency director Manala Manzini said.

“We believe there are forces in this country and outside who continue to refuse to accept that we are capable as a people to rule and govern ourselves.”

Minister in the presidency and close confidant of Mbeki, Essop Pahad, rejected that the attacks were in “anyway connected with the so-called failure to deliver on essential services” in poor communities.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said however he believed the solution lay in “changing the daily lives of people” and tackling unemployment.

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who paid a visit to Zimbabwean migrants sheltering at a police station in Alexandra township north of Johannesburg, linked the attacks to Zimbabwe’s political crisis.

Over 1,000 people are sheltering at Alexandra police station since residents of the area kickstarted the violence May 11, accusing African migrants in their midst of taking jobs and public housing.

Zimbabweans are the biggest migrant group in South Africa, estimated at between one and three million. Tsvangirai said he would return home Saturday after more than a month’s post-election absence to tackle the crisis.

While opposition parties welcomed the recourse to the military the Inkatha Freedom Party, a longtime rival of the ruling African National Congress with a strong following in the workers’ hostels fingered in some attacks, said it was opposed, in some unspecified conditions.

The South African National Defence Force Union said the use of the military for policing duties was “morally, legally and politically indefensible”.

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