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Third Force Behind South African Xenophobic Attacks

Posted: 2008-05-27
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South Africa's security chief on Friday accused rightwingers linked to the former apartheid government of fanning xenophobic violence that has spread to Cape Town, the second largest city and tourist centre.

(M&G Online)

JOHANNESBURG-- At least 42 people have been killed and thousands driven from their homes in 12 days of attacks by mobs accusing foreigners from other parts of Africa of taking jobs and fuelling crime.

The South African government has come under strong criticism for its slow reaction to the violence, which started in a Johannesburg township on May 11, and for not adequately addressing poverty widely blamed for the bloodshed.

But Manala Manzini, head of the National Intelligence Agency, said that people linked to former apartheid security forces were stoking the violence.

"Definitely there is a third hand involved. There is a deliberate effort, orchestrated, well-planned," he said.

"We have information to the effect that elements that were involved in the pre-1994 election violence are, in fact, the same elements that have restarted contacts with people that they used in the past."

Manzini said some of the violence emanated from worker hostels where Zulu migrants traditionally live.

Much of the township bloodshed in the final years of apartheid involved brutal clashes between supporters of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the African National Congress, which has been in power since the end of white rule. IFP fighters were widely believed to be clandestinely sponsored by the apartheid government.

"We donít want to blame the IFP for this . . . but some of their people might be used," Manzini said.

"There is no room for this behaviour"

On Friday, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe expressed the partyís support for President Thabo Mbekiís decision to deploy the army to support the police in halting the tide of violence.

In an article published on the ANCís website, Mantashe presented a reminder, ahead of Africa Day today, of the kindness shown to South Africans by other African countries during apartheid.

"Many of us, including myself, will think of the kindness we received in the poorest communities of Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Nigeria and many other African states.

"We will recall that our neighbours were collectively punished by the apartheid regime for harbouring the cadres of the ANC.

"We will remember that our children were given spaces in overcrowded schools in remote rural villages, and when we were injured and ill, the hospitals of many African countries nursed us back to health," he wrote.

After spreading across the Gauteng province, the violence reached townships in Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Cape.

Many residents in these areas have accused foreigners of snatching away jobs and houses from South Africans; some accuse foreigners of taking their wives.

"A shameful pogrom, ill-informed and angry with people whom they perceive to be robbing them of their right to services. Is this the truth?" wrote Mantashe.

"The same mob that accused people of being criminals acted in the most obscene of criminal ways.

"There is no room for this behaviour in our country ever; there is no reason that compels us to behave in this atrocious manner.

"For this reason we support the deployment of the SANDF (South African National Defence Force) to the affected areas, to do no more than support the police in rooting out the criminals who inspired these acts of barbarism," he said.

Spreading violence

Police said mobs attacked Somalis and Zimbabweans overnight in Cape Town and looted their homes and shops. More shops were looted in Lwandle township near Strand, north of Cape Town, and Knysna. Hundreds of migrants were evacuated from a squatter camp near Cape Town, hub of the prized tourist industry.

"We donít know the exact number of shops looted and burnt, but itís a lot," said Billy Jones, senior superintendent with the Western Cape provincial police. He added that a Somali died but it was unclear whether this was linked to the attacks.

More than 500 people have been arrested in the violence. Authorities said a Malawian man was shot in Durban overnight and three other foreigners were stabbed in North West.

Police expect more attacks over the weekend and said they would seek additional assistance from the military if necessary.

Earlier last week Mbeki, criticised for what is seen as a weak response, authorised the army to help quell violence threatening to destabilise Africaís biggest economy. The South African currency fell sharply earlier last week on the back of the violence before partly recovering on Thursday. The violence comes amid power shortages and growing discontent, which have also rattled investors. Soaring food and fuel prices are seen by most analysts as the major factor in pushing tensions between poor South Africans and foreigners to breaking point.

Officials in the tourism industry, a cornerstone of the economy, are worried overseas visitors will stay away. Nearly one million South Africans earn their living from tourism, which accounts for 8 percent of the countryís GDP.

The country is hoping to draw an additional half-a-million tourists for the 2010 soccer World Cup. Mozambique said that nearly 13 000 migrants and their families had left South Africa since the violence broke out.

There are an estimated three million migrants from Zimbabwe, making them the biggest group among about five million immigrants in a country of 50 million people.

Deep concern

Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) on Friday expressed deep concern about the wave of attacks against foreigners.

"The UNHCR remains deeply concerned about the xenophobic attacks against foreigners in South Africa, including refugees and asylum-seekers who fled to South Africa seeking protection from persecution in their own countries," the agencyís spokesperson, Jennifer Pagonis, told journalists in Geneva.

South Africaís biggest mineworkersí union said on Friday it would tackle xenophobia among its membership, dismissing the prospect that attacks on foreigners could prompt an exodus of skilled miners.

"There is an agreement on how to engage with that, it is a problem and has to be addressed through mass meetings," said National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana.

"Up to now there has been no exodus," he said by telephone on the sidelines of a two-day mining summit of NUMís leadership.

The agenda includes discussion of mine safety, attacks on foreigners and economic issues affecting mineworkers. Government officials and labour representatives are attending the summit.

Big mining companies in South Africa, which tend to employ significant numbers of African migrants, said their staff and operations had not been affected by the violence.

But the anti-immigrant attacks, if not quelled, could drive away trained miners, damaging the industry, Zokwana said.

"If not stopped quickly, these attacks can have a repercussion on the mining sector as they are targeting people who are well-trained and would take time to replace," he said.

Meanwhile, Malawi said on Friday it would help its citizens flee violence against foreigners in South Africa.

"More than 850 Malawians have been affected by the current violence.

"All Malawians willing to return home will be evacuated," Ben Mbewe, foreign affairs principal secretary, said in a statement. 
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