Thu, May 15, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Police, locals clash in S African town

XENOPHOBIC ATTACKSThe ruling ANC slammed the attacks against foreigners as hate crimes, while more than 500 police were called in to contain the violence


A Zimbabwean toddler sits outside the Alexandra police station north of Johannesburg on Tuesday as a gang of armed South African youths looked for foreigners whom they accuse committing crimes and taking up their jobs.


Violent clashes continued between police and locals yesterday in Alexandra township, northeast of Johannesburg, after three days of xenophobic attacks, local media reported.

Mobs have killed three people and injured more than 60 people since going on a rampage on Sunday against foreigners, saying they are not welcome in the country, the South African Press Agency reported.

Several women were raped.

“They took my sister’s daughter and raped her,” said Angela Nyembe, a Mozambican street seller, as she huddled with other foreign-born residents who sought shelter at the Alexandra police station.

She said her family and others had been targeted by South Africans who were jealous of foreigners who worked.

Residents were throwing stones at the police and blockading the streets of Alexandra with burning tires. Police retaliated by firing rubber bullets, raiding several homes and arresting scores of people.

Hundreds of foreigners — primarily from Malawi, Mozambique or Zimbabwe — stayed overnight on Tuesday in police stations out of fear for their lives. The Red Cross said it was caring for more than 220 people who had fled while many others were staying with friends.

The ruling African National Congress party issued a statement on Tuesday saying it “unequivocally condemns such xenophobic attacks.” It urged South Africans to take a firm stand against the attacks and to “treat them as hate crimes.”

More than 500 police have been called in to contain the violence. Police said 50 people had been arrested in connection with the violence. They were scheduled to appear in court yesterday on charges of murder, attempted murder, robbery and rape.

Authorities tried to reassure the community they had the situation under control.

“We will be intensifying patrols and will be beefing up more man-power, and police will be going throughout Alexandra and ensuring that the situation is stable,” said Neria Malefetse, a spokeswoman for the Johannesburg police.

The residents said they believed the attacks had been triggered by a perception that illegal immigrants were responsible for a spate of robberies in the area.

The incident, the latest in a string of attacks on foreigners, renewed fears that xenophobia was rising in a country long known as one of the most welcoming to immigrants and asylum seekers, especially from Africa.

But a perception it is now open season on this group threatens to fray South Africa’s relations within Africa and handicap its buoyant economy, which is straining under rising inflation, a skills shortage and a devastating power crisis.

An estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa as a result of the deep economic crisis back home.

Last month there were violent incidents in Pretoria and in Cape Town, which also took several lives.

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