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Johannesburg violence escalates
  • Thirteen people have been killed and two burnt (including one NRI) in South Africa's city of Johannesburg since Friday in a wave of attacks against immigrants
  • Targeted mostly Zimbabweans and Mozambicans, the biggest groups among immigrants who are accused by the poor of taking jobs and fuelling the high rate of violent crime.



'Go back home' messages to immigrants in Africa

Johannesburg, May 23, 2008
Satnam Kaur

After burnt alive of NRI photographer Kiten Singh, NRIs are still uncertain whether the cause was linked to xenophobic events. Many NRIs and NRI shopowners in Actonville, Johannesburg are living in terror. More than 42 people have been killed and more than 25,000 foreigners have been displaced by the violence, most of it targeting Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans and other foreigners living alongside South Africans in squatter camps.

On May 24, in New Delhi, Vayalar Ravi, NRI Affairs Minister announced to media that the Indian Embassy in South Africa had been unable to get in touch with Indians who are missing" but was trying its level best through non-government sources. The Indian government has expressed concern over the recent xenophobic attacks on foreigners.

Tovi, a local resident of South African said:

  • South Aricans are upset with foreigners, they are chasing them away.
  • The government promised them jobs but hasn't done anything.
  • The government can't provide us jobs if there are people here who come here illegally.
  • We have to clean up first, and then we can get jobs... We may target Indians and Pakistanis in future - some were born in South Africa, but some are foreigners. They must go."

Aid groups in the Johannesburg area said as many as 13,000 people had been displaced by the violence, most of it targeting Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans and other foreigners living alongside South Africans in squatter camps.

Hundreds of Zimbabweans and other foreigners fled their homes in Alexandra, a teeming crime-ridden township, to escape xenophobic attacks. Some hid in the nearby bush or in police compounds.

"They were saying, 'Go back to Zimbabwe, we don't want to see you here, you're taking our jobs. They took everything, saying, 'You didn't get this from Mugabe; this is our property.' "...

NRI Sudesh Patel said South Africa seems to be a country with very unusual human beings, you meet a white guy he is racist you meet a black guy he has a gun under his shirt. Historic tension, discrimination and hatred between blacks and whites, now an illegal-undocumented-alien issue.

The trouble began a week ago in the sprawling township of Alexandra. Immigrants from neighbouring African countries were set upon by men with guns and iron bars chanting "kick the foreigners out".

The South African Red Cross is now providing food and blankets to hundreds of frightened immigrants forced from their homes.

President Thabo Mbeki said he would set up a panel of experts to investigate the violence. The leader of the governing African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, condemned the attacks.

"We cannot allow South Africa to be famous for xenophobia," he told a conference in Pretoria.


NRI photographer allegedly burnt alive by a mob in Johannesburg, Africa


Johannesburg, May 22, 2008
Satnam Kaur

NRI Kiten Singh, 55, photographer allegedly burnt alive by a mob. At least 15 people have been murdered in orchestrated attacks by groups of South Africans against immigrants in poor townships around Johannesburg. The victims are mainly Zimbabwean immigrants. The crowd of over 100 residents of a hostel that is home to local workers also set his house on fire.

The mob (killers) had taken the time to spray the walls and doors with paint and daub images of unhappy faces on the walls of the house. They had also been daubed onto Kiten's car, which was parked outside the house.

Lalbahadur Singh, bother of Kiten said, "The family did not understand why he had been targeted. It was impossible for anyone to mistake him for a foreigner as he grew up here and was well-known in the area. His brother also did not have any foreigners working for him, which could have been a reason for the attack on him after threats to attack such businesses."

The xenophobia that prompted these attacks permeates society. This despite the fact that South Africa's powerhouse industries - gold mining and the manufacturing sectors of its industrial heartland of Johannesburg - were built on migrant labour, much of it from neighbouring countries, with populations that also paid a heavy prize for their governments' and people's support of the anti-apartheid struggle. They hosted political exiles and endured bombings, assassinations and military aggressions.

Violence against immigrants, like some windswept fire, spread across one neighborhood after another here in one of South Africa's main cities this weekend.

Shops and businesses — many of them owned by Zimbabweans, Somalis and Pakistanis — have been looted. Many victims are legal residents with all the proper immigration documents. Some are being assaulted by neighbors they have known for years. However genuine the rage against immigrants, criminals have also made crafty use of the opportunity.

The police said they arrested more than 200 people over the weekend. The army joined police officers to conduct three dawn raids in Johannesburg. Guns, ammunition and drugs were seized and 28 arrests made.

This latest outbreak of xenophobia began a week ago in the historic township of Alexandra and has since spread to other areas in and around Johannesburg, including Cleveland, Diepsloot, Hilbrow, Tembisa, Primrose, Ivory Park and Thokoza.

Amid so much violence, the police were spread thin, sending in squads of officers in armored vehicles. "We are using all available resources and will call in reinforcements if the need arises," a police spokesman, Govindswamy Mariemuthoo, told reporters.

President Thabo Mbeki said Sunday that he would set up a panel of experts to investigate the causes of the violence. Jacob Zuma, the president of the governing African National Congress and the man presumed to succeed Mbeki next year, called the attacks on foreigners a matter of national shame.

"We should be the last people to have this problem of having a negative attitude towards our brothers and sisters who come from outside," Zuma said.

Newspaper editorials have called the outbursts a matter of using immigrants as scapegoats for South Africa's problems. The official unemployment rate is 23 percent. Food prices have risen sharply. The crime rate is among the highest in the world.

And yet South Africa, with the most prosperous economy in the region, is a magnet that draws a continuing stream of job seekers from Malawi, Mozambique and elsewhere. An estimated three million Zimbabweans have sought refuge in their neighbor to the south, many of them fleeing here in recent months as Zimbabwe's economy has utterly collapsed and political violence has intensified.

What’s behind the murder and violence against immigrants?

News reports quote the attackers as saying:

  • The immigrants are "job stealers."
  • Mobs of South Africans shout: "Who are you? Where are you from?" as they maraud through the narrow streets they share with immigrants. They order people from their homes, steal their belongings and put padlocks on the houses.

According to africa files: although it does not justify the immediate cause for the violence of the last week but it is the desperation of sections of the poor black South Africans living in subhuman conditions. South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world. As polling firm Markinor (using very optimistic measures) reported earlier this month, in an increasingly youthful population (78% black), only 42 of every 100 South Africans have a job, 49% are poor (with monthly household income below R2,400 or £1,700), 13% are HIV positive, 24% of homes have no electricity, 32 % no tap water, 69% no hot water supply, and R21 (£1.4)of every R100 (£6.8) they earn, they spend on food.

Most of these people have consistently voted for the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, and next year they will probably make Jacob Zuma South Africa's next president. What they have witnessed under an ANC government, however, is how a small elite have enriched themselves, how whites have actually benefited from freedom and how the majority still lives in poverty with high rates of violence and illness. However, as Zwelinzima Vavi, leader of the country's largest trade union federation, COSATU, noted this week, the poor and desperate are not about to revolt, but instead will turn against foreigners.

Thousands of panicked foreigners- many of them Zimbabweans who have fled their own country's economic collapse- have now deserted their ramshackle dwellings and tin-walled squatter hovels to take refuge in churches and police stations.

This is a modern, industrialised country, with one of the world's most progressive constitutions, that prides itself on inclusivity. South Africans champion such concepts as the "rainbow nation" and "the world in one country", and despite much resistance, held a much-heralded truth and reconciliation commission.

Most South Africans don't have passports and rarely travel into the rest of the continent. Of those who travel, mostly whites, they go to Europe (which they culturally identify with), Australasia and North America. The education system, even after apartheid, has not done much to improve this state of affairs. It's a hard fact to come to terms with, but Thabo Mbeki's African Renaissance failed largely because it did not connect to the country's black majority. In the same way, while laudable, the recent solidarity action by Durban dockworkers and truckers to unload and then transport guns to the Zimbabwean regime, is an exception.



Thirteen people have been killed and two burnt (one NRI) in South Africa's city of Johannesburg since Friday in a wave of attacks against immigrants