TWELVE people were arrested overnight as anti-foreigner attacks in South Africa spread to parts of downtown Johannesburg, police said Friday, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu added his revered voice to the condemnation.
“Twelve suspects were arrested for trying to break into foreign-owned shops,” said police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Lungelo Dlamini.
It was the latest incident in a wave of immigrant-targeted violence that began earlier this month in the port city of Durban, leaving at least six people dead.
According to local reports, the protesters from a local hostel demanded foreign nationals leave South Africa, setting cars alight and clashing with police.
No injuries were reported, said Dlamini.
The scene remained tense Friday morning, with hostel-dwellers telling reporters they wanted immigrants to know they were not welcome in the country.
President Jacob Zuma has condemned the violence in parliament.
“No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” he said Thursday night.
Locals and African immigrants in South African often compete for scarce jobs, making them a target for violence and intimidation.
Early this year, foreign shopkeepers in and around Soweto, south of Johannesburg, were forced to vacate their premises after violence and looting broke out.
In 2008, 62 people were killed in xenophobic violence in Johannesburg townships.
South Africa stands accused of betraying its human-rights ideals and African nations that aided the fight against apartheid.
The violence is embarrassing for the ruling African National Congress, whose members sought refuge in countries on the continent before white-minority rule ended in 1994.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
“Our rainbow nation that so filled the world with hope is being reduced to a grubby shadow of itself more likely to make the news for gross displays of callousness than for the glory that defined our transition to democracy under Nelson Mandela,” Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s foundation said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.
“The fabric of the nation is splitting at the seams.”
The violence is affecting investor sentiment already hurt by power shortages that have led to rolling blackouts and constrained production and economic growth.
African officials accused the government of failing to act decisively enough to stem the violence.
“If this was happening here in Zimbabwe, the calls for immediate action would be like a cacophony,” Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said in a phone interview from Harare on Thursday.
South Africa has to act “to save the lives and livelihoods of their fellow African brothers and sisters from Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the continent. They must act immediately against any form of racism or xenophobia.”
Malawi has hired buses to repatriate its citizens caught up in the violence, Information Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa said.
“I would have wished the government of South Africa would have done more,” he said by phone from Blantyre, the capital, on Thursday.
“We are concerned, we are disappointed. We want to take our people back home until the situation normalizes.”
Patrick Gaspard, the US ambassador to South Africa, and the African Union, a 53-nation continental grouping, also issued statements on Thursday condemning the attacks.
“Whatever the challenges we may be facing, no circumstances justify attacks on people, whether foreigners or locals,” said Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairwoman of the AU Commission. “It is unacceptable.”
China made a formal complaint with South Africa’s government about attacks directed against its nationals, Xinhua news agency reported on Thursday, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Zuma, who spent years in exile in Mozambique and Swaziland, appealed for calm in an interview with state television on Wednesday night and reiterated his call in an address to the National Assembly on Thursday.
“The attacks violate all the values that South Africa embodies,” he told legislators. “Many South Africans left this country at some point. We were treated with generosity, dignity and respect by our brothers and sisters from the rest of the continent.
“We will never forget that hospitality and solidarity. No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals.” (AFP, Bloomberg)