Zuma faces pressure to end violence in South Africa

South African president heckled as he calls for calm, as deadly attacks continue against foreign nationals.

A crowd of displaced foreign nationals has heckled South African President Jacob Zuma during his visit to a makeshift shelter, as he tried to address mounting pressure to end the deadly anti-immigration attacks in the country.   

In a meeting on Saturday with some 1,400 foreigners waiting for repatriation, Zuma said: “We will deploy police to every area to ensure safety.”

The crowd, however, did not take warmly to that promise and chanted, “No!” in response. 

Earlier on Saturday, Zuma cancelled his trip to Indonesia to attend the Afro-Asia Summit to deal with the violence at home.

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In his speech to the displaced foreigners, he said that the South African government was not chasing them away. “We are not saying to you, ‘Go away!'” he said.

He also said that his government was committed to the safety of those foreign nationals who choose to remain in South Africa.

Zuma also handed over a cheque of about $4,100 from a local business for the upkeep of the camp. But the gesture was also met with boos from the crowd.

Even after Zuma left, local media reported that the displaced foreigners continued to protest against his visit, chanting, “Go home!”

More than 30 people have been arrested in the last 24 hours, while violence spreads to other districts of South Africa’s financial capital, Johannesburg.

Scenes of looted stores greeted Johannesburg residents on Saturday as police assist foreign nationals to safety in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, following a second day of violence. 

Overnight, looting and road blockages by anti-immigrant protesters were reported in Alexandra, Malvern, Thokoza, and Cleveland.

On Saturday, a Mozambique national, identified as Emmanuel Sithole, died of his injuries after he was attacked by men during anti-immigrant violence in Alexandra. The attack was captured by a Reuters photographer. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, Gauteng police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera: “We believe these are pure criminal acts. People are taking advantage of the situation and then they are robbing small businesses.”

Late on Friday a group of protesters barricaded portions of the M2 highway with rocks and refuse, and police were forced to fire rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

In the port city of Durban, meanwhile, no new incidents of violence against foreigners have been reported.

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But a report from the Durban police said the body of a 58-year-old man, found dumped in Verulam north of Durban on Wednesday, has been revealed to be a foreign national who was attacked by a mob at his home in the area.

Thousands displaced

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that a total of 5,000 people have been displaced in the current wave of violence.

Makeshift shelters for displaced foreigners have been set up around Durban, from which many foreigners are now preparing to leave South Africa.

According to UNHCR, some 1,400 people, mostly single men, and a few families, are being accommodated in Chatsoworth, while 300 others are sheltered in Isipingo, and another 450 in Greenwood Park.

The UN Refugee Agency said, some 1,500 displaced people were moved to a new and larger site in Phoenix on Thursday.

Daniel Dunia, a Congolese national who serves as a spokesperson for the displaced foreign nationals in Isipingo, said foreigners in Durban still feel unsafe, and the numbers of the displaced continue to swell.

More than a thousand foreign immigrants have been displaced in the country [EPA]

Government pressure

The South African government has reiterated its condemnation of the attacks on foreign nationals.

Following a cabinet meeting on Friday morning, Jeff Radebe, a minister in the presidency said, “South Africa is not a violent country and therefore a few individuals cannot be allowed to hold the whole country at ransom.”

 Violence spreads to S Africa’s financial hub 

The South African government has come under pressure from other African states to stop the violence against immigrants in the country.

In a statement issued in Accra by Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned “the barbaric, criminal and xenophobic murder of innocent African foreigners in South Africa”.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, South Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister, held a meeting with the heads of missions of African states to address their concerns related to the anti-immigrant violence on Friday.

Reprisals against South Africans in neighbouring countries have, however, already affected South African businesses.

South African energy giant Sasol was forced to repatriate 340 South African staff members from its Mozambican operations on Friday, over fears for their safety.

Click on the image below to learn more about xenophobia in South Africa

Source : Al Jazeera


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