Scott Bobb, Voice of America News, May 19, 2008
Police in South Africa say 22 people have been killed in the past week and dozens wounded in a series of attacks directed primarily at foreigners in the Johannesburg area. More than 200 people have been arrested, but incidents continue sporadically as we hear from VOA’s Scott Bobb in Johannesburg.
Police fired rubber bullets and made dozens of arrests in an effort to quell sporadic outbursts of anti-foreigner violence in the Johannesburg area.
The violence began one week ago in Alexandra, a township in northeastern Johannesburg, but has since spread to more than a dozen mostly impoverished communities around the city.
Several thousand foreigners, primarily from neighboring countries, have taken refuge in police stations, churches and government buildings. Many of them say they were chased from their homes by mobs wielding sticks, knives and rocks.
Some have lost all their belongings. Dozens of homes have been torched and shops looted.
The victims say they are accused of taking jobs and public houses away from South Africans and of being responsible for the country’s high crime rate. But police spokesman Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said the attacks have been mostly criminal in nature.
“When one looks at the victims as well, there are South African citizens,” Mariemuthoo said. “So this is purely criminal.”
South African President Thabo Mbkei has urged police to move quickly to establish the causes and persons responsible for the violence, but he also urged ordinary South Africans to take a stand.
“It is important that the communities themselves should not stand aside and just say this is a police matter; that they should themselves act together with the police and together we should say it is very, very wrong and unacceptable that there should be this kind of violence,” Mr. Mbeki said.
Mr. Mbeki said he would create a commission to investigate the incidents. Former President Nelson Mandela and leaders from across the political spectrum have condemned the attacks. Many recall that they were accorded asylum in neighboring countries during the anti-apartheid struggle.
Analysts say some anti-foreigner feelings are due to South Africa’s economic difficulties, characterized by 40-percent unemployment, 10-percent annual inflation and major increases this year in prices for food and basic goods.