S.African anti-immigrant violence spreads to Cape Town
by Adam Plowright
A wave of anti-immigrant violence in South Africa spread to Cape Town on Friday as troops and police appeared to have quelled unrest in the hotspot of Johannesburg.
Police reported attacks against immigrants and foreign-owned shops in a slum area of picturesque Cape Town. The southern coastal city is a major draw for tourists and had thus far been spared the mob violence seen in Johannesburg.
At least 42 have been killed, more than 500 arrested and 16,000 displaced in the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria, since unrest broke out 12 days ago.
Police spokesman for the Cape Town area Billy Jones said a public meeting to address the danger of xenophobia in the Dunoon slum area 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of the city degenerated into violence on Thursday evening.
"Groups within the crowd started to loot shops owned by Zimbabweans and other foreigners," he told AFP, saying 500 had since fled the area to stay in community centres and 15 suspects had been arrested.
"Some people were assaulted, but mostly shops were looted."
Police also reported pockets of overnight unrest in Durban in the KwaZulu Natal region, where an unidentified foreigner was shot, and in North West province where two Pakistanis were stabbed.
"The police are on high alert and we will not tolerate any violence," said North West police spokesman Peter du Plessis. "What we are doing is identifying the areas where the foreigners are staying and then patrolling those areas."
Northern-most Limpopo province also saw problems for the first time overnight when a Mozambican man was stabbed and 11 people were arrested, local police told AFP.
In Johannesburg, the raging violence of the last week and a half appeared to have been brought under control by police bolstered by specialist units trained in public order and the army.
"It's quiet," police spokesman for the Johannesburg area Govindsamy Mariemuthoo told AFP.
For the first time, soldiers were deployed on Johannesburg's streets on Thursday to help stem the tide of violence that has seen mobs of armed youths attack foreigners in poor areas around the city.
About 200 soldiers assisted police with morning arrest and search operations in central Johannesburg on Thursday and remain on standby to offer back-up and logistical support.
Spokesman for the defence forces General Kwena Mangope told AFP Friday there had been no further army deployments.
President Thabo Mbeki bowed to pressure to call in the army on Wednesday after a request for support from the police force.
Foreigners in South Africa, many of whom have fled economic meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe, are being blamed for sky-high crime rates and depriving locals of jobs.
The violence, which has done untold damage to South African's reputation as the "Rainbow Nation," is also taking its toll on the country's economy.
Unions and several mining companies have reported that gold mines around Johannesburg, the country's economic heartland, have been hit by the unrest, with employees failing to show up for work.
Politicians are increasingly blaming criminals for the anti-immigrant violence, as well as the insanitary and lawless conditions found in slum areas.
But a number of rights groups have said the government has failed to address the problem of xenophobia, with isolated incidents of attacks against foreigners reported since the end of the 1990s.
South Africa's World Cup-winning Springbok rugby team condemned the attacks on Friday and asked South Africans to "rediscover the spirit of reconciliation" that prevailed at the end of apartheid in 1994.
"We, the Springboks, are horrified by the ongoing xenophobic attacks upon innocent people," the team said in a statement.
The plea came as countries around South Africa announced efforts to repatriate their citizens who have been caught up in the violence.
The governments of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe said they would assist citizens who wanted to return home.
"More than 850 Malawians have been affected by the current violence. All Malawians willing to return home will be evacuated," Malawi's Ben Mbewe, foreign affairs principal secretary said in a statement.