About two platoons of South African Army infantry have been deployed to the KyaSands informal settlement in northwest Johannesburg to maintain order after an outbreak of violence apparently linked to xenophobia, reports by three independent news agencies say.
The South African Press Association says eight armoured vehicles lined up next to the main road leading to KyaSands, yesterday while soldiers disembarked to be briefed before they proceeded to Extension 3 of the sprawling townhip.
Police officers at the scene told SAPA there were no incidents and the Army was brought in to ensure there was calm in the area. Soldiers and police would camp in KyaSands to maintain calm, the wire service added.
Reuters reported mob violence on foreign migrants injured at least 11 “and increased concerns of a fresh wave of xenophobic attacks.” SAPA quoted local police commander Major General Oswald Reddy saying five of the victims were South African, four Zimbabwean and two were from Mozambique. At least 10 people were arrested on suspicion of assault, Reuters reported.
A series of attacks on foreign workers in 2008 killed 62 people and damaged investors’ confidence, the British news service added. Another wave could wreck the positive image that Africa’s biggest economy was able to portray when it hosted the soccer World Cup, it warned.
The soldiers had joined about 100 security personnel deployed in the township and about 50 police were on standby, Talk Radio 702 reported from the area. Reuters noted tensions have long been growing between South Africans and millions of foreign migrants they accuse of taking jobs and homes. But open animosity appeared to be put on hold during the World Cup as South Africa showed its best face to the world.
Many migrants feared a rapid dissipation of feelings of African unity generated by the first World Cup held on the continent. Many have fled to homes in neighbouring states since the tournament ended earlier this month. Running battles erupted late on Sunday at KyaSands after a robbery in the township provoked anger between local people and foreigners, the local Eye Witness News website said. Police took several hours to quell the unrest. Foreign migrants are estimated to make up more than 10 percent of South Africa’s population of about 49 million. Many are Zimbabweans who fled economic collapse at home.
Government officials have mostly dismissed the fears of a fresh wave of attacks on foreign migrants as being fuelled by rumours and not by actual violence. South Africa’s alarmingly high crime rate makes it difficult to classify the motive for attacks on migrants. The poor from South Africa and abroad fall victim to violence daily in the state where murders average 50 per day, Reuters said.
SAPA said Gauteng minister for community safety Khabisi Mosunkutu was confident the police would handle the attacks. After visiting KyaSAnds yesterday he insisted crime, and not xenophobia, was the cause. “We have assessed the situation thoroughly and the police are able to handle it well. There is no need for the Army to be deployed,” Mosunkutu said. Earlier, residents demanded that the Army be deployed to protect them, saying police were not doing enough.
Marcia Mocheka, a resident of the settlement, said they feared for their lives and did not think police were doing enough to protect them. “These people are armed with axes and pangas and they can see the police patrolling. The minute they pass your shack, then the attackers come to kick your door,” she said. Mosunkutu said the attacks were purely criminal activities, and were not xenophobia-related. “It’s just a group of people carrying out criminal activities; they are failing because we have arrested most of them. “We will not tolerate crime of any nature, all the perpetrators will be brought to book. Crime will be defeated,” Mosunkutu said.
But one of the victims, Simon Mnthise, 26, from Mozambique, whose spaza shop was looted on Monday night, said he heard people chanting, “We don’t want foreigners here, they must all go back home.”
“It was around 9.30 pm. I closed the shop and ran to my friend’s house in another section. While I was there my neighbours called to tell me that they had broken into the shop looting, and destroying what they did not need.”
Meanwhile, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported that a Somali national was shot and killed at his shop in the Kuyga informal settlement outside Port Elizabeth. Police said Ibraham Ali Hasson was alone in the shop at the time of the incident. He stumbled to his business partner’s house where he collapsed and died. No arrests had been made and police were investigating a murder. Last week, violence apparently targeting foreign nationals broke out in the Western Cape, forcing scores of Zimbabweans to flee.