CNSNews.com, 23 October 2000

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Johannesburg (CNSNews.com) - A rampaging mob of South Africans chased Zimbabweans out of a squatter settlement near Johannesburg Monday before torching their homes and businesses.

The attack is the latest xenophobic incident in South Africa, where African foreigners are being targeted on a daily basis.

The violence in Zandspruit squatter settlement west of Johannesburg erupted when the Zimbabweans refused to honor a 10-day ultimatum to leave the area of face the wrath of South Africans.

The ultimatum, which expired on Saturday, was allegedly brokered in a meeting held at the local police station. The station commissioner, Senior Superintendent Betty Ngobeni, said the ultimatum had been a unilateral decision by the community. She said police had warned the South Africans that they had no right to remove anyone who was a legal resident.

However, at a meeting called on Sunday it was decided to evict the Zimbabweans forcefully.

The angry community burned and demolished the immigrant's shacks. Television sets, refrigerator and stoves were destroyed.

Police later moved into the area and used rubber bullets to disperse the rampaging mob. Six people were injured in the police action.

Scores of Zimbabweans fled the area. Some went to seek protection at the local police station.

Christopher Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean who has been in South Africa for 17 years, said the harassment of the foreigners began about a month ago.

"The problem started at a disco when a Zimbabwean shot and killed a South African. The locals then decided to launch an action against criminal activities in the area. The action later changed and they started to target all Zimbabweans," he said.

"I can't go back to the area. They will burn me. I have to go and find somewhere else to live," Ndlovu said.

Lindiwe Dube left her small village just outside of Zimbabwe's second city Buluwayo, six months ago because there is very little work in her country.

"I came here because my family is starving at home. What little money I make from working her I send there," she said.

The increase in the number of xenophobic attacks has been attributed to the high unemployment rate in South Africa. South Africans believe Zimbabweans are responsible for stealing their jobs.

Many Zimbabweans are prepared to work for less money then their South African counterparts. Unscrupulous employers are also happy to employ illegal immigrants because they don't belong to organized labor unions.

Jody Kollapen of the South African Human Rights Commission said xenophobic acts could never be condoned, especially if there were severe consequences such as forcible eviction and the burning of shacks.

"We have just had a world conference against racism and one theme was to challenge xenophobia. An effort has to be made to teach people to look at Zimbabweans, not as people who are in South Africa to steal jobs and land, but as people who are in the country to make an honest living."

The South African Department of Home Affairs, responsible for repatriating illegal immigrants, has in recent weeks tried to crack down on the influx of illegal Zimbabweans entering the country.

Last week the Home Affairs Department threatened to deport all illegal Zimbabwean farm workers from the northern region of South Africa in an attempt to create more jobs for South Africans.

But white farmers protested that they cannot afford to hire local laborers, and they threatened massive food shortages in the area should the Zimbabweans be sent home.

The department relented and has granted the Zimbabweans a reprieve until the end of the harvest season. They're supposed to leave after that.

But with increasing economic and political turmoil in Zimbabwe, more illegals are entering the country.

Home Affairs officials claim that they are arresting at least 300 illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe every day. And they say many more are slipping through the porous boarder that divides the two countries.