Migrants flee South Africa in thousands as army prepares to deploy

May 22nd, 2008 - 5:55 pm ICT by admin  

Johannesburg, May 22 (DPA) A day after South African President Thabo Mbeki gave the green light for the deployment of the military to help curb a wave of xenophobic violence that has claimed 42 lives the exodus of migrants continued unabated Thursday. Nearly 9,000 Mozambican nationals have fled South Africa since the attacks on African migrants began May 11 in a township north-east of Johannesburg, South African radio reported.

Mozambicans are thought to be the second-largest migrant group in South Africa after Zimbabweans.

Migrants from other African countries, including Zimbabwe and Malawi, have also been seen boarding buses out of the country, despite a let-up in recent days in the attacks that have displaced at least 16,000 people and led to around 400 arrests.

While most of the violence has taken place in the Johannesburg area, xenophobic attacks have also been reported in the southern port city of Durban and in eastern Mpumalanga province, home of the famous Kruger National Park.

A Mozambican national was shot dead and two buses were burnt in one part of the province Wednesday night, police said. A group of migrants, including Somali, Mozambican and Zimbabwean nationals, had taken refuge at a local police station.

On Wednesday Mbeki acceded to a request from embattled police for army backup but it was not yet known when the army would be deployed.

A provincial police spokesman said the police and military would be hashing out the details Thursday but that the police would still be taking the lead in the security response to the attacks.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel downplayed the recourse to the military, which had been seen by some as possibly eliciting parallels with incursions by the military into black townships during apartheid.

“It’s not a military solution we’re looking for,” Manuel said in a radio interview. “It’s about changing the daily lives of people,” he added, stressing the need to alleviate unemployment, officially put at 23 percent but estimated by unions at closer to 40 percent.

The mobs that have beaten and burnt to death by some of their erstwhile neighbours in poor Johannesburg communities over the past 10 days accuse migrants of taking their jobs as well as of being responsible for high crime levels.

The government has emphasized the criminal element in the attacks, in which homes and shops have been looted and women raped.

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