South African attacks on foreigners rise, 5 more killed

May 19th, 2008 - 8:17 am ICT by admin  

Johannesburg, May 18, (DPA) Five more people were killed early Sunday as a wave of anti-foreigner attacks that has claimed over seven lives spread like wildfire through South Africa’s business capital, Johannesburg. Two people were burnt and three people beaten to death in the early hours of the morning in a squatter camp in Cleveland, east of the city, police told the South African news agency Sapa.

Zimbabweans were the main target of the attack, in which a further 50 people sustained injuries, including gunshot and stab wounds, police spokeswoman Cheryl Engelbrecht said.

Some 300 had fled their homes and sought refuge in a nearby police station in what has become a feature of a week of xenophobic attacks in poor communities, where residents are accusing foreigners of taking jobs and public housing.

The situation escalated Sunday as the attacks move to central Johannesburg, where a church harbouring hundreds of illegal Zimbabweans was the scene of a tense standoff between police and a violent mob.

Police fired rubber bullets to chase away youths armed with baseball bats from the Central Methodist Church, where two people were injured by axe-wielding attackers.

Inside the church the migrants had stockpiled bricks and sticks to defend themselves in case of a large-scale 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, says.

The attacks began a week ago in the township of Alexandra, northeast of Johannesburg, where residents went on the rampage, ordering foreigners mainly out of their homes, and looting and torching their possessions.

Two people were killed and 60 injured in that flare-up, which forced around 1,000 people from their homes into the relative safety of police stations.

By Saturday, copycat attacks had been reported in several other communities to the north and east of the city, which attracts migrants from all over the country and region in search of work.

In Tembisa township in the east, a man was shot and killed and two others wounded Saturday, in what police described as an anti-foreigner “rampage”.

The ruling African National Congress, opposition parties and the main trade union federation COSATU have all condemned the xenophobic slide in poor communities, which has claimed the lives of several foreigners in recent years, including two Zimbabweans near Pretoria in Africa.

South Africa is home to millions of migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and other poor 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 believed to have fled their country’s economic and political chaos to South Africa in recent years. Most are deemed ineligible for refugee status by South Africa, which calls them “mostly economic migrants.”

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