At least 14 dead in mounting South Africa xenophobic violence

May 19th, 2008 - 8:13 am ICT by admin  

Johannesburg, May 19 (DPA) The death toll in a week-long wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa rose sharply over the weekend as reports of people being burnt and beaten to death poured in from squatter camps around the business capital Johannesburg. The police said that 12 people were killed over the weekend as shack dwellers in one poor community after another turned on migrants living in their midsts, beating them, sometimes fatally, torching their homes and looting their possessions.

A photographer with the European Pressphoto Agency saw a man being burnt alive after being severely beaten by a mob Sunday in a squatter camp in Reiger Park suburb, eastern Johannesburg.

The man was covered in a mattress and set alight. The police tried to douse the flames with sand.

Captain Z. Mbatha said that six or seven people had been killed over the weekend in Reiger Park, where the police fired live ammunition to disperse rampaging residents, who razed dozens of homes belonging mostly to Mozambican migrants.

Earlier Sunday, in a squatter camp in Cleveland, also on Johannesburg’s eastern flank, two people were burnt and three people beaten to death, police said.

Police said around 200 people were arrested over the weekend attacks, in which 12 people were killed, bringing to at least 14 the number of fatalities since May 11.

The Red Cross said that 3,000 people had been left destitute by the violence, which has spread like wildfire in recent days around Johannesburg.

The attacks began in Alexandra township, north-east of the city, with residents accusing foreign migrants of taking jobs and public housing and of being responsible for high crime levels. Two people were killed and 60 injured in that first flare-up, which forced 1,000 people to seek sanctuary at local police stations.

On Sunday, the action spread to central Johannesburg, where a church harbouring hundreds of homeless Zimbabweans was the scene of a tense standoff between migrants and local youths.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse the baseball-bat-wielding youths from the Central Methodist Church, where two people were injured, including one wounded with an axe.

Inside the church, the migrants had stockpiled bricks and sticks to defend themselves from a major onslaught.

“I’m very worried. I’m sure they’ll come back,” Wayne, a 23-year- old Zimbabwean who jumped the border to South Africa four months ago to look for work, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

South Africa, Africa’s biggest economy, is a magnet for poor migrants from neighbouring countries, most of whom live in the country illegally and compete with South Africans for low-paid jobs.

Up to 3 million Zimbabweans are estimated to have fled their country’s economic and political chaos south of the border in recent years, putting a significant strain on resources. Xenophobic violence has been mounting in recent years in South Africa, initially targeting Somali owners of township shops.

The ruling African National Congress, opposition parties and the main trade union federation COSATU have all condemned the latest attacks.

President Thabo Mbeki’s government has established a task force to probe the causes of the rioting, including whether it is politically orchestrated.

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