Xenophobic attacks on the rise in South
Africa: ‘We were drinking beer with these
people last week. Now they want to kill
President Jacob Zuma has cancelled a planned trip to
Indonesia to deal with a wave of xenophobic attacks,
which saw 30 people arrested in Johannesburg in the
early hours of Saturday
When a mob hammered on the door of Nkululeko Dlomo’s
township home in Durban, South Africa , ordering him to leave his
possessions and go, his first instinct was to fight for the life he
Having moved with his young family from the Zimbabwean capital,
Harare, to South Africa four years ago, Mr Dlomo found a job with
a building firm and had hoped to put years of penury behind him.
But his resistance lasted for as long as it took the gang to pin him
down and smash his head with a rock.
« They came inside and started hitting people, » he told The
Telegraph. « Some of us tried to fight back but they were too many.
They hit me and one pulled out a gun and fired above my head.
That’s when we ran away. »
Mr Dlomo put his wife and young children on a bus back to
Zimbabwe, and stood this week fingering a livid gash across his
skull and looking down on a refugee camp where 1,500 people
have sought safety amid an outbreak of xenophobic violence
across South Africa that has already claimed at least five lives.
Thousands more have been injured by mobs wielding machetes,
bricks and firearms, driven from their homes and had their
President Jacob Zuma announced on Saturday that he was
cancelling a planned trip to Indonesia, to deal with the unrest.
Thirty people were arrested in Johannesburg overnight as the
violence continued unabated.
Local South African men dance and sing while carrying clubs as
they call for foreign shop owners to leave the area after
xenophobic violence in the area in Actonville, Johannesburg (Kim
An estimated 10 per cent of South Africa’s 50 million population is
made up by foreigners from other African countries, from some of
the continent’s most troubled nations such as Somalia and the
Democratic Republic of Congo as well as its poorest such as
Malawi and Mozambique .
While to the north, migrants brave hostile seas and people
traffickers to make their way to Europe in search of work and a
better life, in the south people make their way to South Africa
which, with its Western shopping malls, stable democracy and
increasingly wealthy middle-class known as Black Diamonds,
resembles a promised land.
Although largely consigned to the bottom rung of society, many
have found work in the mines or the building industry, or as
domestic workers, gardeners and nannies. Some have set up their
own small businesses repairing televisions, washing cars or selling
Police officers advance to enter mens hostels after xenophobic
violence in the area overnight forced foreign shop owners to close
their shops for fear of attack in Actonville, Johannesburg (EPA)
But with one in four South Africans unemployed, and scores more
without basic services like water, power and sanitation, foreigner
settlers have become easy targets for public discontent.
The latest attacks have been blamed on comments by Goodwill
Zwelithini, the Zulu king, who told a cheering audience on March
20 that foreigners were « lice » who should be « plucked out and left
in the sun ».
« I won’t keep quiet when people who have no say are playing with
this country, » he said. « We ask that immigrants must pack their
bags and go back where they came from. »
Far from condemning the comments by the king, who holds sway
in a province that Mr Zuma and his African National Congress
allies rely on to stay in power, other influential figures added fuel to
People take cover from a stun grenade and tear gas after a
skirmish between locals and foreign nationals as thousands of
people take part in the « peace march » against xenophobia in
Durban, South Africa (AFP)
Mr Zuma’s son Edward claimed foreigners were « taking over the
country » and raised the possibility of a coup.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s Secretary General, suggested that all
undocumented migrants would have to be moved to refugee
Condemnation for the king’s outburst has instead come from
Jonathan Moyo, the information minister for Zimbabwean
president Robert Mugabe , took to Twitter to voice his outrage at
the persecution of his countrymen, many of whom fled political
violence as well as economic hardship at home.
Hundreds of people participate in a peace march after anti-
immigrant violence flared in Durban (Rogan Ward/Reuters)
He called for Zwelithini to « extinguish what he ignited », adding:
« Xenophobia today can easily mutate into genocide tomorrow. »
Few believe the anti-foreigner violence will reach the levels of 2008,
when 62 people were killed principally in Johannesburg, but there
is little sign of it abating.
The focus of the attacks have been black Africans and in some
cases Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis. Apart from an
instance in which a white South African woman’s car was stoned
as she drove through a violent area of Johannesburg last week, no
whites have been targeted.
Commentators believe this is because black Africans are in
competition with locals over menial jobs, whereas whites and
others from wealthier nations are largely perceived as providing
jobs. Whites also rarely live in the poorest areas where foreigners
have been attacked.
Although there have been no local reports of the multitude of
Chinese–owned shops in South Africa being affected, China’s
national news agency Xinhua reported that China’s embassy had
made a formal complaint to South Africa saying « scores of shops
owned by Chinese nationals » had been ransacked.
A young child sits at a transit camp in Westcliff sports ground in
Chatsworth south of Durban where over a thousand of foreign
nationals have been placed since the awake of Xenophobic attacks
on them around the KwaZulu Natal Province (Tebogo Letsie/The
On Friday in Johannesburg, gangs torched cars and shops in an
area known as Little Addis for its popular Ethiopian food cafés. In
Germiston, a town on the historical gold-mining belt to the east,
hundreds of foreigners sought refuge at a police station amid fears
for their safety.
In Umlazi township outside Durban, a 22-year-old Ethiopian died
when he was locked inside a shipping container he ran as a shop,
which was then set alight.
His older brother, Alex Marcus, 24, told local media from his
hospital bed: « I was crying inside the container while I was burning.
We were locked inside for almost an hour. »
Even as thousands of people marched through central Durban on
Thursday to show their solidarity with the victims , they were
goaded by men who brandished weapons, smashed shop windows
and chased suspected outsiders.
Outnumbered police spent the day racing from one end of the
city’s main shopping street, where the marchers gathered to sing
and make speeches, to the other to fire stun grenades and water
cannons on looters as shopkeepers watched from behind their
drawn-down metal grilles.
« We’ve been dealing with this for weeks now and we’re exhausted, »
said one visibly frustrated policeman.
« It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. If they really
want to deal with it, we have to get tough. We arrest people but
then we’re told to just let them go without charge. »
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A local pastor, Dennis John, told The Telegraph those behind the
attacks were becoming more meticulous, driving away South
Africans in relationships with foreigners and even bursting into the
home of his colleague in the middle of the night to accuse him of
sheltering their quarry.
Scores of people arrive each day to join the estimated 5,000 people
now living in four makeshift camps on the outskirts of the
settlements where the « kwerekwere », as foreigners are locally
known, once lived cheek by jowl with the people now chasing them
One, in Chatsworth, a mixed-race area a 30-minute drive outside
the city centre, was set up a week ago on a football pitch-sized
field ringed by boggy marshland.
Eight marquees shelter people from the cold autumnal drizzle, their
gloomy insides filled with masking tape-bound suitcases and
grubby mattresses and fugged with smoke from paraffin stoves.
Long queues form when volunteers dish out bread and beans
donated by local businesses and individuals.
In another tent, people line up to give their names and nationalities
to embassy officials. Already, buses are taking Mozambicans and
Malawians home and more have been promised by the
governments of Somalia, Zimbabwe and Kenya .
Emmanuel Mangwiro, 38, faces a stark dilemma. He was told by a
group of men who stopped him outside work that if he didn’t leave
they would cut his throat but his employer in a building works
refuses to pay him his salary of R2,000 (£111) until the end of the
« If I go home, I can’t go with nothing, » he said. « I need money to
find a place to live, to start again. » He was driven out of his
township house by his South African landlord who had heard about
gangs going door-to-door looking for foreigners.
He spent a night sleeping rough with his 18-month old daughter
and wife, before renting a room in a wealthier Indian
neighbourhood which costs one and a half times his salary.
« My baby coughed for the whole week after that night so I know I
did the right thing but now I’m borrowing money I can’t pay back, »
« I don’t understand it. We were drinking beer with these people last
week. Now they want to kill us. »
Samantha Benessa, 36, is also fearful for her two-year-old son’s
health and keeps him wrapped tight to her body with a towel, since
he developed a runny nose and hacking cough at the weekend.
Forced to run from their homes in their pyjamas, they have no
bedding and sleep on the wet grass.
« We left our TV, our clothes, I couldn’t even take my bag, » she said.
« They said: You’re buying these things with our money, our Rand. »
There have been several cases of tuberculosis in the camp and
with overflowing rubbish bins and just a handful of lavatories,
there are concerns that widespread disease could soon bring more
Even with a police unit at its entrance, people in the camp still do
not feel safe. By day, locals come to whisper threats to those
assembled inside through the flimsy metal fences. By night, people
circle the perimeter in pickup trucks shouting insults.
« It’s only a matter of time before they try to come in, » said one
Malawian man who did not want to give his name.
Another woman said her 12-year-old daughter had been given a
message to relay to her that she should go home or be necklaced –
an apartheid-era practice for punishing informants where a fuel-
filled tyre is hung around the neck and set alight.
This week, Mr Zuma sought to dampen the ire by promising to
crack down on unchecked immigration, while reminding his
countrymen of the debt they owed their neighbours for sheltering
exiles during apartheid. « The attacks violate all the values that
South Africa embodies, especially the respect for human life,
human rights, human dignity and Ubuntu (togetherness), » he said.
But the Economic Freedom Fighters, a political party run by Julius
Malema, the firebrand former ANC youth leader who is now a
fierce opponent of Mr Zuma, blamed the ruling party for « failing
dismally » to provide South Africans with « good quality lives ».
« Condemned to chronic hunger, unemployment and misery, our
people are directing their anger to wrong people, » said Vukani
Ndlovu, the EFF’s chairman in KwaZulu Natal.