Friday, April 17, 2015

South Africa descends towards a new apartheid: Immigrants create armed gangs in the face of violence from black locals aimed at foreigners

Fighting back: Immigrants carrying machetes have clashed with police in a search for locals that attacked foreign shop owners in Durban
 Immigrants wielding machetes have clashed with police as they hunt for locals that attacked foreign shop owners as violence continues to spread across South Africa.

Police fired rubber bullets and a stun grenade today to disperse a gang of immigrants who had armed themselves with machetes in a run-down district in Johannesburg.

The country has been hit by a wave of violence against immigrants in the past fortnight. The foreigners have complained about a lack of protection and some have started to arm themselves and fight back.


Danger: A man in an Adidas tracksuit armed with an axe charges at a photographer in Johannesburg, cheered on by a crowd behind him
The clashes came after at least 12 people were arrested overnight for allegedly trying to break into 'foreign-owned shops', according to police.

Protesters also set cars alight and clashed with police as they demanded workers from elsewhere in Africa and South Asia leave the country.

Dozens of foreigners had to seek refuge at a police station where they stayed overnight.

So far, five people are believed to have been killed in the violent protests which started two weeks ago in Durban, a key port on South Africa's Indian Ocean coast, spreading to Johannesburg.

Violence flared days after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini said in remarks reported by local media that foreigners should 'take their bags and go'.

In a recorded speech sent to a local broadcaster, he said: 'We must deal with our own lice' and complained about foreign-owned shops. He has since said his comments were misinterpreted.

Addressing parliament in Cape Town on Thursday, President Zuma reiterated his condemnation of the violence, calling it a 'violation' of South Africa's values.

'No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,' he said. 'We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms. The attacks violate all the values that South Africa embodies.'

He also said the government was taking steps to secure its porous borders and making progress in setting up a Border Management Agency, announced last year and scheduled to be up and running in 2016.

Despite his pleas, hundreds of South Africans jeered and insulted demonstrators who had gathered for a peace march in the city of Durban after days of violence.

Chaos: Men from the Jeppie Hostles roll over a torched car in the middle of the street in Jeppestown, Johannesburg
The ruling African National Congress party has condemned the attacks as 'shameful' and branded them 'criminal acts against vulnerable people'.

The US ambassador to South Africa, born in Zaire - now the Democratic Republic of the Congo - to Haitian parents, spoke in defence of the immigrants.

'As an immigrant to my own country, my heart goes out to those who have been attacked for being different,' Patrick H. Gaspard said.

In the past two weeks, shops and homes owned by Somalis, Ethiopians, Malawians and other immigrants in Durban and surrounding townships have been targeted, forcing more than 2,000 foreigners to flee to camps protected by armed guards.

Foreign nationals living near Johannesburg had to remove items from their shops and shut up their stores because of fears they could be targeted by protesters.

They fled after a mobile phone text message was apparently sent to shop owners, warning them to shut their premises, claiming that 'Zulu people are coming to town... to kill every foreigner on the road'.

Angry South Africans accuse immigrants of taking jobs in a country where unemployment and poverty levels are high - the official figure is 25 per cent but economists say, in reality, it is much higher.

South Africa has a population of about 50 million, but an estimated five million immigrants and its high jobless rate, widespread poverty and glaring income disparities make it a ripe candidate for outbreaks of anti-immigrant violence. 

Johannesburg was the epicentre of the 2008 xenophobic attacks that killed more than 60 people and saw violence spread through the area.  

The governments of Malawi and Zimbabwe have begun efforts to repatriate citizens affected by the attacks. 

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