Business Day/Sapa, 20 May 2008

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Residents of Johannesburg informal settlements, besieged by a wave of xenophobia, expressed mixed opinions about the causes of violent attacks in their areas. According to police, 22 people have died and 217 people have been arrested during a wave of attacks in Gauteng, which police say are “pure criminality” but have been generally attributed to xenophobia. The violence started in Alexandra 10 days ago and has spread through Gauteng. Sadness was etched on the faces of locals and foreigners at Kya Sand informal settlement, northwest of Johannesburg, yesterday morning, where foreigners had been evicted earlier. Locals and foreigners were milling around, while police calmed the situation, sifting through the area barricaded with burning tyres. Carrying golf sticks and knobkerries, locals earlier went on a rampage, robbing foreign-owned shops and shacks. Locals who were interviewed expressed a desire for peace and called on politicians to come and witness the situation instead of sitting in the “comfort” of their offices and being fed with information. Tshidi Letshedi, 28, a mother of two school-going children, said: “These attacks were started (on Sunday) in the evening by a group of Zulu speakers. They targeted foreigners, mostly from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and the locals who speak Tsonga, and to me this is pure jealousy by these people who are (too) lazy to look for jobs.” Another local woman who refused to be named mentioned job competition as the cause of violent attacks. Vusi Ntombela, busy persuading people to calm down, made an appeal to President Thabo Mbeki and his cabinet to come and witness their living conditions: “He (Mbeki) must come here. We are tired of violence, and they must do something to address unemployment in this area.” Yet for Edith Tefo, 65, former president Nelson Mandela is to blame. She directly blamed him for marrying Graça Machel, a Mozambican national. This, she said, gave foreigners “freedom to come to SA the way they like”. A few people, believed to be foreigners, were seen loading bakkies with belongings to leave Kya Sand. It could not be established where they were going. Diepsloot, another area affected by attacks and evictions was calm yesterday, police said. In Ramaphosa township, near Reiger Park, police found another body yesterday morning. The man, believed to have been Malawian, seemed to have been chopped up and burnt. The township was tense with fires breaking out in parts and there was a heavy police presence. Rose Molape, a resident and South African citizen, expressed anger over what was happening in her township, her home for the past 13 years. A Zimbabwean family living nearby for the past 12 years had been forced to move last week after hearing of xenophobic attacks, she said. “They were nice people and had to leave.” She said the family’s home was burnt to the ground after they left. “We, as Africans, need to help each other. We can’t do this,” she said. About 50 shacks were burnt down in the Zamimpilo informal settlement in Riverlea, west of Johannesburg, yesterday, and a group of foreign nationals there was moved to a place of safety, police said. Spokesman William Mpondo said they were still investigating differing accounts from eyewitnesses on how the fires began. Police spokesman Dir Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said 19 people died in attacks over the weekend. He said it was fairly quiet yesterday in Alexandra and Diepsloot, where the attacks began. Police had had to contain violence in Zandspruit, Primrose, Tembisa, Reiger Park, Tokoza and a few other East Rand areas since the weekend.