Anti-xenophobia marchers gather in Johannesburg after attacks
Thousands of demonstrators readied to march through central Johannesburg on Thursday to protest against a spate of attacks on immigrants, after further raids by the authorities on suspected gang hideouts.
Two people were arrested late Wednesday when police, backed by soldiers, stormed a workers’ hostel in the city’s crowded Alexandra township.
The army was deployed this week to support police in operations against hostels housing South African men who are accused of targeting migrants from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and other African countries.
At least seven people have been killed in three weeks of unrest that have revived memories of xenophobic bloodshed in 2008, when 62 people were killed mainly in Johannesburg’s townships.
“We are determined to show the compassionate side of South Africa,” organisers of the march said, vowing to hold a “peaceful event that demonstrates the overwhelming rejection of these heinous acts”.
“South Africa must take up the challenge to ensure the displaced are reintegrated into communities they fled,” the umbrella group of civil society bodies and charities said.
The march is due to start at 1100 GMT.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday condemned the violence and called for “all efforts” to be made to avoid future attacks.
“He welcomes the public expressions of the many South Africans who have been calling for peaceful coexistence and harmony with foreign nationals,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement.
– Forced to flee –
President Jacob Zuma has pledged to tackle anti-migrant sentiment in South Africa and to address deep-rooted problems behind the attacks.
“South Africans are not xenophobic,” he said. “If we don’t deal with the underlying issues, it will come back.”
Zuma gave few details of government plans, but said the violence was driven by “criminal elements” as well as friction between foreigners and locals.
Another 11 men were arrested in a joint army and police raid on a hostel in Johannesburg overnight Tuesday.
More than 20 years since the end of apartheid, many South Africans believe the lack of opportunities for young blacks and a severe jobs shortage has led to boiling frustration.
Zuma gave few details of government plans, but said the violence motivated by “criminal elements” as well as friction between foreigners and locals.
The unrest erupted in the port city of Durban about three weeks ago and later spread to Johannesburg, the economic capital.
Many immigrants have been forced to flee their homes and abandon their small shops as marauding mobs hunted down foreigners at night.
“Over 5,000 people from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi still seek refuge in displacement camps,” Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) said in a statement.
“Injured Malawian and Zimbabwean men told medics that they are too afraid to openly seek medical treatment for their wounds and fractures for fear of further attack.”
One Mozambican man was stabbed to death in Alexandra township last Saturday in scenes that provoked widespread outrage after the killing was captured in graphic newspaper photographs.
Alexandra, where Nelson Mandela lived as a young man, is one of the most troubled parts of Johannesburg and is located next to the upmarket business district of Sandton.
Regional relations have been strained by the attacks, with Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique organising for some worried citizens to return home.
Neighbouring Mozambique said more than 2,000 citizens had fled the violence.
Five buses also arrived back in Zimbabwe on Wednesday.