JOHANNESBURG: South African police fired rubber bullets and patrolled parts of Johannesburg yesterday after the financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. Rocks, bricks and rubber bullets lay strewn across the empty streets of Alexandra after mobs plundered the township overnight, burning and looting shops in their path.
AFP photographers in Alexandra said police presence remained heavy and officers were still firing rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. Alexandra township is situated just five kilometers from Sandton, the city’s affluent business and shopping district — considered Africa’s richest square mile.
The township was scene to a second night of urban rioting in Johannesburg, where hundreds of people marched through the streets on Monday in an unusually large expression of anti-foreigner sentiment. More than 90 people were arrested on Monday in connection with the violence and looting of shops in Johannesburg and surrounding areas, the government said. Such violence breaks out sporadically in South Africa where many locals blame immigrants for high unemployment, particularly in manual labor. “They burnt everything,” Bangladeshi shopowner Kamrul Hasan, 27, told AFP in Alexandra, adding that his shop gets attacked every three to six months. “All my money is gone. If the (South African) government pays for my plane ticket, I will go back to Bangladesh,” he said.
‘Overwhelmed by hatred’
South African truckers also started a nation-wide strike on Sunday to protest against the employment of foreign drivers. They staged road blockades and torched foreign-driven vehicles in various parts of the country on Monday. At least another 20 people were arrested in connection with the truck attacks in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, bringing the total number up to more than 110, the government said in a statement.
South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from the southern Africa region, with many moving from neighboring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in search for work. Deputy President David Mabuza yesterday condemned all acts of violence targeting foreign nationals. “We are a nation founded on the values of Ubuntu (humanity) as espoused by our founding father, President Nelson Mandela,… we should always resist the temptation of being overwhelmed by hatred,” he said during a meeting with ministers in Cape Town. The violence has erupted on the eve of the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, where hundreds of political and business leaders will gather for three days on Wednesday.
David Makhura, the premier of Johannesburg’s Gauteng province, said that while irregular migrants could pose a challenge by pushing drugs and counterfeit goods, rioting was not a solution. “This issue can be dealt with without resorting to xenophobia,” Makhura told reporters. “There is no country that does not have foreign nationals”.
Opposition parties condemned the violence, placing the blame on the ruling African National Congress. “South Africans are scared and lack real hope for the future,” said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s official opposition. “We are seeing economic and social collapse in action, and the widespread violent protests, looting, destruction of property and general lawlessness”. – AFP