More than a week after parts of Johannesburg erupted in xenophobic rage, there are no signs that the violence, which has now claimed 30 lives, is subsiding.
With thousands of people left destitute or injured, South Africa’s Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula Tuesday confirmed that government would deploy specialised units to assist police in curtailing the attacks, which has targeted foreign nationals, especially Zimbabweans fleeing political and economic crisis at home.
The Salvation Army, in an effort to alleviate the suffering of those on the receiving end of the attacks, is using several of its centres in Gauteng to collect emergency supplies and to help those hardest hit.
Addressing a large crowd of displaced immigrants, the minister said police would deal with xenophobia-related violence swiftly, adding: “Our law enforcement agencies are in place. We will make sure that the violence does not spread to other areas.”
Analysts said the reasons for these attacks were many and varied, but a key trigger is the accusation by South Africans that foreigners are stealing their jobs.
Tensions in the region have also soared as a result of the impasse following the stalemated March elections in Zimbabwe.
Rising violence in South Africa’s neighbouring nation, a fallout of the elections, have pushed more people across the border.
Meanwhile, condemnation of the attacks has continued to grow.
The Premier of Gauteng, where the violence has occurred, noted that this year’s celebration of ‘Africa Day’ would take place under a dark cloud.
“Our assertion of Gauteng being the melting pot of different nations and cultures is being shattered by a few. It is time for all of us to stand up and ensure that we uphold the assertion in the freedom charter that there shall be peace and friendship,” said Premier Sam Shilowa.
The United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA), an association of the municipalities of Africa, expressed its unambiguous regret at the xenophobic violence directed at fellow Africans by some sections of the South African public.
“One of the objectives of the UCLGA is to see a united Africa, an Africa without borders, given the fact that our boundaries are a colonial imposition and undermine the fact that as Africans we are all one.
“It is against that background that we condemn in the strongest possible terms the current spate of attacks on Africans of non-South African origin,” said spokesman Siphamandla Gumbi.
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) also deplored the violence, saying: “The brutal targeting of innocent people solely because of their origins are criminal, racist acts that strike at the very heart of the tolerant, peaceful and democratic society that South Africans are striving to build,” said Zev Krengel, National Chairman of the SAJBD.
He likened the attacks on foreign nationals to the kind of racist attacks that Jews had been subjected to in the course of their history, as well as to the deadly civil strife taking place elsewhere in Africa.
South Africa President Thabo Mbeki has condemned the attacks and ordered an investigation into the causes.