XENOPHOBIA STOKES SHACK FIRES

Pretoria News, 11 December 2007

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A Zimbabwean man has been seriously injured and several shacks have been torched in an apparent xenophobic attack. The attacks at Mooiplaas squatter camp near Sutherland Ridge this week are believed to be linked to ongoing feuds between South African and Zimbabwean residents. The attacks, which have left more than 200 South African and Zimbabweans homeless, began on Monday. It is believed they were sparked by the alleged theft of stock from a spaza shop by two men believed to be Zimbabwean nationals. According to police, a group of South Africans allegedly set fire to five shacks belonging to Zimbabweans. The Zimbabweans then allegedly set 16 of their alleged attackers' shacks alight. In retaliation, the South Africans allegedly burnt down a further 80 homes. Apparently people were pulled from their homes and kicked and beaten before being forced to watch their homes going up in flames. Zimbabwean Bheki Ngwena, who moved to Pretoria this year, was asleep with his wife Beauty when men armed with poles and planks beat down his door. They demanded to know where the "thieves" were. The couple could not tell them and were beaten and made to watch as their attackers doused their home with petrol and set it alight. The couple managed to break free and ran into dense bushes nearby, from where they watched in horror as groups of men and women went around the settlement torching shacks. Ngwena said: "I was so scared. I thought they were going to kill us. The men kept telling us they were going to burn us. They called us criminals and said we should go back home. "This is our home. We have nowhere else to live." He said they, along with hundreds of others, had lost everything. "We have nothing. All our money, clothes and food has been burnt. What are we going to do now? How are we going to live?" Ngwena's neighbour, Maximus Moshama, also said he had nothing left. "I don't know why this happened. Whey did they have to do this to everyone? Why couldn't they just punish the thieves? Don't South Africans know that not all Zimbabweans are criminals?" Khatshutshelo Madau, cradling his three-year-old son Peace, stared blankly at the burnt shell of his shack. "Why do this? What has my son done? Why did they have to burn his home and his clothes?" he asked. Madau was able to save only his couch. A South African neighbour helped him to pull down a wall and drag the couch from the fire. South African resident Nikki Dhlomo said he understood people's frustrations, but this was not the way to solve problems. "There are only going to be more people who are going to suffer. We are going to see more people getting hurt. Someone is going to die if this does not stop," he said. Police spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko said the injured man had been taken to hospital. A case of arson was being investigated.