XENOPHOBIC VIOLENCE REACHES CAPE TOWN

The Sowetan, 23 May 2008

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A wave of anti-immigrant violence in South Africa spread to Cape Town on Friday, even as troops and police appeared to have quelled the unrest in the hotspot of Johannesburg. Police reported attacks against immigrants and foreign-owned shops in a slum area of picturesque Cape Town. Police spokesman for the Cape Town area Billy Jones said a public meeting to address the danger of xenophobia in the Dunoon slum area 20 kilometres north of the city degenerated into violence on Thursday evening. “Groups within the crowd started to loot shops owned by Zimbabweans and other foreigners,” he told AFP, saying 500 had since fled the area and were staying in community centres. “Some people were assaulted, but mostly shops were looted." Police also reported pockets of overnight unrest in Durban in the KwaZulu Natal region, where an unidentified foreigner was shot, and in North West province where two Pakistanis were stabbed. Pakistanis were also targeted in Free State on Thursday. Twenty two people were arrested after a group of people were seen throwing stones at their shops. “The police are on high alert and we will not tolerate any violence,” said North West police spokesman Peter du Plessis. “What we are doing is identifying the areas where the foreigners are staying and then patrolling those areas." In Johannesburg, the raging violence of the last week and a half appeared to have been brought under control by police bolstered by specialist units trained in public order and the army. “It’s quiet,” said police spokesman for the Johannesburg area Govindsamy Mariemuthoo. For the first time, soldiers deployed on Johannesburg’s streets on Thursday to help stem the tide of violence that has seen mobs of armed youths attack foreigners in poor areas around the city. About 200 soldiers assisted police with morning arrest and search operations in central Johannesburg on Thursday and remain on standby to offer back-up and logistical support. Spokesman for the defence forces General Kwena Mangope told AFP on Friday that there had been no further army deployments. President Thabo Mbeki bowed to pressure to call in the army on Wednesday after a request for support from the police force. Foreigners in South Africa, many of whom have fled economic meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe, are being blamed for sky-high crime rates and depriving locals of jobs. The violence, which has done untold damage to South African’s reputation as the “Rainbow Nation,” is also taking its toll on the country’s economy. Unions and several mining companies reported Thursday that gold mines around Johannesburg, the country’s economic heartland, had been hit by the unrest, with employees failing to show up for work. South Africa’s tourism industry has also warned of the impact on visitor numbers and a farming group raised alarm Thursday about the impact of xenophobia in the agricultural sector. Politicians are increasingly blaming criminals for the anti-immigrant violence, as well as the insanitary and lawless conditions found in slum areas. But a number of rights groups have said the government has failed to address the problem of xenophobia, with isolated incidents of attacks against foreigners reported since the end of the 1990s. “These unpardonable acts bring to the fore the need to intensify the implementation of government’s efforts to eradicate poverty and reinforce our housing and service delivery programmes,” Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils told the National Assembly Friday, SAPA news agency reported. “We must better educate our people in tolerance, resolutely dispelling any erroneous perceptions about foreign nationals, which are fuelled in circumstances of relative socio-economic disadvantage,” he added.