South Africans decry attacks; 10,000 displaced in Cape Town

May 25th, 2008 - 12:12 am ICT by admin  

Johannesburg, May 24 (DPA) More than 2,000 people marched through central Johannesburg Saturday to protest the recent spate of xenophobic attacks that have claimed the lives of over 40 mostly African migrants and displaced tens of thousands countrywide. Waving placards reading: “We are all Zimbabweans” and “Xenophobia hurts like apartheid”, the diverse crowd of South Africans and immigrants wound its way through the central business district to a church that shelters hundreds of illegal Zimbabwean migrants.

Immigrants from Kenya, Cameroon, Mozambique and Angola marched under the flags of their country.

Zimbabweans were also present in large numbers among the protestors, some of whom wore T-shirts marked “amakwerekwere” (foreigner) - a term used derogatorily in South Africa.

The protest was organized by a coalition of NGOs on the eve of Africa Day, a day on which Africans celebrate continental solidarity but which looks set to be overshadowed this year by the violence.

Nearly two weeks of attacks that have driven tens of thousands of migrants out of poor communities continued Saturday in a township near George in the Western Cape. Police fired rubber bullets to disperse rioting residents, who attacked and looted foreign-owned shops.

In Cape Town, where the violence spread in recent days, the city’s disaster management service said it had given shelter to 10,000 fleeing migrants. Police said they had arrested around 200 people, bringing to over 600 the number of those arrested since the violence started May 11 northeast of Johannesburg.

President Thabo Mbeki ended nearly a week’s silence on the issue Saturday to say that the attacks marred the legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle, radio reports said.

Speaking at an historic school in Eastern Cape province attended by former president Nelson Mandela, Mbeki said students from all over Africa had once studied there alongside South Africa’s current leaders, proving a long tradition of Africans working side by side.

Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Zola Skweyiya said in Pretoria he was worried that the attacks could fuel tensions between South Africans and other Africans.

Earlier this week, Mbeki gave the green light for the army to be deployed to assist the police in Gauteng province, where Johannesburg is situated, in fighting mobs that have have turned on migrants living in their midst, accusing them variously of taking jobs, public housing and of stoking crime.

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