Cape Argus, 22 May 2008

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The violence that has engulfed parts of Gauteng has spread to other provinces, with reports of attacks in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. The death toll since the violence started on May 11 rose to 42 by late on Wednesday. An estimated 16 000 people had been driven from their homes and 400 people arrested, police said. On Wednesday, President Thabo Mbeki announced that SANDF troops were on standby to help the police quell any xenophobic attacks. In Mpumalanga, police said today that businesses owned by foreigners had been looted overnight in the Leslie and Embalenhle townships near Secunda. "They looted six tuckshops and burnt three. Some belonged to Zimbabweans and some to Somalis," a police officer said. And Durban police reported on Thursday that between 200 and 300 foreign families had sought refuge at the Chatsworth police station last night after they were chased from their homes by residents of Bottlebrush settlement. Earlier on Wednesday KwaZulu-Natal Premier S'bu Ndebele said the province would not hesitate to call in the SANDF and elite police units to stop any further violence. He was speaking after touring the area around a Nigerian-owned tavern in Dalton Road, in Umbilo, Durban, where six foreigners were injured in attacks on Tuesday night. Police spokesperson Superintendent Phindile Radebe said: "A mob of (some) 200 were gathering on the streets carrying bottles and knob-kerries (wooden clubs), busy attacking people on the streets." Hundreds of foreigners fled their homes and shut down their businesses after the attacks. Some of them sought refuge in churches while others went to stay with their friends and relatives in Albert Park and the Point Road area. In the Durban city centre, shop owners closed their stores when the news of the attacks spread. The owner of a shop in Umbilo Road said yesterday that locals had ordered them to leave the country. "When they barged into the shop, they were carrying weapons and shouting that they wanted the foreigners and that we must leave the country," said Christopher Iheukwumere. A leader of a Durban refugee organisation, Ramazani Wayalala, told the Cape Argus that the situation was "extremely tense". "There have already been a number of attacks on foreigners and we have no doubt that they are linked to xenophobia. "Our people are being told to leave the country or face death." Police and KwaZulu-Natal officials said the Durban attack had not been sparked by xenophobia, but it increased fears the violence could eventually spread from Gauteng. Premier Ndebele reassured foreigners and South Africans yesterday that the province would not hesitate to deploy the armed forces should the need arise. Ndebele and Safety MEC Bheki Cele suggested that IFP supporters had ignited the attacks on the Dalton Road tavern. Cele reiterated that the attacks had been committed by a group of people who had come from an IFP meeting. But the IFP said attacks against foreigners had clearly spread to the province. Meanwhile, a statement from the Presidency yesterday said Mbeki had "approved a request from the SAPS for the involvement of the SANDF in stopping on-going attacks on foreign nationals", a statement from the presidency said. Police spokeswoman Sally de Beer said this would involve equipment and troops being deployed into affected townships. "It will be in terms of equipment and personnel. They won't be taking over the role of the police; they will be acting in support of us in specific operations," she said. Defence Ministry spokesman Sam Mkhwanazi said SANDF troops would be in strife-hit areas "as soon as possible."Gauteng police said this morning that there were no new reports of xenophobic attacks in the province. "It's been quiet; there were no reports of xenophobic attacks over-night," said spokesman Director Govindsamy Mariemuthoo. Mariemuthoo said police would continue to monitor the affected areas. The violence sweeping the country could pose a serious security threat to South Africans working and travelling elsewhere in Africa, Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana has warned. He suggested that Bafana Bafana might face danger when travelling to play other teams in Africa if citizens in those countries decided to retaliate. "We are seriously concerned. "If it is true that the violence has now spread to other parts of the country then it is very distressing."