South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday appealed for calm as a wave of anti-immigrant violence spread to Johannesburg, raising fears the country’s economic woes could spark widespread unrest.
At least six people have been killed in the last two weeks in attacks in the Indian Ocean city of Durban that targeted shops and homes owned by Somalis, Ethiopians, South Asians and other immigrants.
Police in the Actonville area of Johannesburg used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of anti-immigrant protesters on Thursday, while foreign-owned shops in the Jeppestown area of the city were attacked overnight.
Around 200 protesters, shouting that they wanted immigrants to leave, had pelted passing vehicles and police with rocks, triggering the show of force.
Many shops in the centre of Johannesburg were shut on Wednesday and Thursday after threats spread via social networks and text messages.
“We have witnessed shocking and unacceptable incidents of violence directed at foreign nationals,” Mr Zuma told parliament in Cape Town.
“No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops. We appeal for calm, an end to the violence, and restraint.”
The police have been directed to work round the clock to protect both foreign nationals and citizens and to arrest looters.
Thousands of people marched through Durban to call for better protection for immigrants, more than 1,000 of whom have fled their homes in the city and sought shelter in camps.
Marchers chanted “Down with xenophobia” and “A United Africa” at an event attended by residents, students and local religious and political leaders.
Police have vowed to quell the unrest, which claimed its latest victim on Monday when a 14-year-old boy was killed in KwaMashu, a township north of Durban.
“There are tensions in various parts of the country between some locals and foreign nationals (but) lawlessness will not be tolerated,” National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega said in a statement.
Police, who also reported tensions in Pietermaritzburg, a city some 80km from Durban, called for community leaders to help reduce friction and added that false rumours of attacks were increasing fear.
Earlier this year, similar xenophobic violence erupted in Soweto, near Johannesburg, as frustration deepened over lack of opportunities for many young blacks 21 years after the end of apartheid in 1994.
South Africa’s economic growth was just 1.5 per cent last year and unemployment at around 25 per cent — soaring to over 50 per cent among the young.
Violence against immigrants in South Africa is common, with unemployed locals accusing foreigners of taking their jobs.
In 2008, 62 people were killed in xenophobic violence in Johannesburg townships.
One of the marchers in Durban, Eric Machi, 34, said he rented rooms to Zimbabweans and Malawians until they fled from attackers in recent weeks.
Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2015
CREDIT – dawn.com
Photo Credit herald.co.zw