SOUTH African police struggled to get a grip on rampaging mobs attacking foreigners and looting their property, even as president Jacob Zuma’s son risked further inflaming the situation as he Tuesday called for an end to “unnecessarily accommodating” foreign nationals.
Wide-scale looting continued across the townships in Durban in attacks that have been seen as fanned by recent anti-foreigner rhetoric by some leaders in the country.
Online news site News24 said “several people have been killed” and thousands more displaced, but said it was still struggling to verify the numbers.
The latest victim was a 14-year-old boy shot and killed in the KwaZulu-Natal town of Ntuzuma on Monday.
Violence has been largely confined to the south in Durban, where attacks on April 9 claimed four lives, but on Monday night spread to other areas in the port city.
South African police said they arrested 28 people suspected of involvement in a deadly looting spree of foreign-owned stores in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.
There were however reports that they were at times overwhelmed by the mobs. As officers battled to protect foreign nationals who desperately tried to salvage what was left of their belongings, locals forced their way into shops and made off with food and goods before setting the shops ablaze.
South Africa is struggling to contain an outbreak of violence that’s been directed against immigrants in a number of towns. At least five people have been killed and more than 200 arrested in Gauteng province, the country’s economic hub that includes Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.
As Africa’s most industrialised nation, it attracts thousands of foreigners every year, seeking refuge from poverty, economic crises, war and government persecution in their home countries. While the bulk of them are from elsewhere on the continent, such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, DR Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia, many come from Pakistan and India.
Violence against African immigrants in South Africa is common, with impoverished locals accusing foreigners of taking their jobs and business.
The wave of attacks and looting was triggered after a Somali shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy during an alleged robbery in Soweto in January. It’s the worst anti- immigrant violence since 2008, when about 60 people were killed and about 50,000 displaced from their homes.
On Tuesday Edward Zuma weighed in again, just days after his father had spoken out for the first time against the attacks.
“I am not going to stop telling the truth. The government must stop running away from addressing this issue…” he said, according to News24.
“People think that I am being xenophobic but I am not, I am just trying to make a point that we have a problem.
The younger Zuma claimed he was only voicing his opinion as a South African citizen. “These are my personal views and I am sticking to what I said and I will die with it.”
He said the attacks were evidence that the country was sitting on a ticking time bomb, and called for those in the country illegally to either leave or present themselves for documentation.
“We accept foreign nationals that are in the country legally and contributing to the South African economy with their skills. But, we do not accept foreign nationals that shoot our mothers and sisters.”
The lack of documentation and the country’s porous borders has been blamed for rising crime.
Zuma said his statements were directed at all foreigners, not just Africans
“They are also contributing to the problem… South Africans need to stop being apologetic, we appreciate what they did for us in the past but they should not take advantage.”
No army yet
His comments came as ministers responsible for security in the country condemned the xenophobic attacks, adding that government would protect foreigners. A cross-department team to deal with the attacks has now been set up.
Police minister Nathi Nhleko said the situation in KwaZulu Natal had “not reached the point of army deployment”.
Similar comments by Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, who suggested that immigrants should “pack their bags and leave” the country are also seen as fanning the latest attacks. He later walked back the comment as a distortion and said the attacks were “taking our continent backwards” but it appeared to have been too late.
On Monday one of two Ethiopian brothers who had been burned by a rampaging mob died, as Malawi begun voluntarily repatriating its citizens.
Ephraim Meskele, leader of the Ethiopian community in Durban, said the community was among the most affected.
Over a thousand mostly African foreign nationals have fled their homes in black townships around Durban since the attacks and looting erupted two weeks ago. They are being housed in camps.