South Africa finally deploys army to end xenophobic attacks; foreigners say they were 'hunted like dogs'

Tension remains high in the country after attacks that have threatened to stoke continental division.

NEARLY four months after the first attacks on foreign nationals, South Africa is deploying its army to end the wave of attacks on foreigners.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the troops would be deployed to Alexandra township, north of the main city Johannesburg, and in some areas of Durban.

“We are deploying because it is an emergency. The army will support police officers, who will take the lead in containing the violence, she said.

Tension has been high in the township since the killing of Malawian Emmanuel Sithole at the weekend, an attack that was captured in dramatic pictures at the weekend and which shocked the world.

Four men Tuesday appeared in court under heavy security, charged with Sithole’s killing. 

Violence early this month saw at least seven people, the majority of them African nationals, raising tensions with other African countries several notches.

The latest round of attacks is widely linked to South African Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini who in comments at the end of March said foreign nationals must pack their bags and leave.

In a meeting hastily called on Monday and attended by an estimated 6,000 people, the monarch defended his view that his comments were misconstrued.

He condemned attacks on foreign nationals and said that immigrants must be protected, irrespective of their nationalities.

He was speaking stadium in the eastern port city of Durban, where the most recent attacks have concentrated.

“It may be a belated effort to demonstrate especially to other governments in Africa and people in South Africa that they are willing to make the hard decision to try and get to grips with what is happening,” Roland Henwood, a politics lecturer at University of Pretoria, told Bloomberg news service by phone.

Hunted like dogs

The deployment of the military comes as foreigners fleeing the xenophobic violence told AFP Tuesday of how they escaped marauding death mobs and vowed never to return to the country where they had sought a new life.

Holding her one-year-old daughter in her arms, Malawian Agnes Salanje said she “faced death” during the wave of anti-immigrant violence that has claimed at least seven lives.

“We could have been killed as these South Africans hunted for foreigners, going from door to door,” Salanje, who was a domestic worker in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban, told AFP.

Nearly 400 Malawian refugees arrived overnight in the city of Blantyre in the south of the country, where they were met by government ministers and officials.

The attacks on foreigners have sparked a wave of anger and protests against South Africa across the rest of the continent.

Salanje, who was paid $200 a month, said she escaped the attackers after being “tipped off by a good neighbour and we ran to a mosque to seek shelter.”

“I will not go back. It is better to be poor than be hunted like dogs because you are a foreigner,” she said.

“I lost everything. I only managed to grab a few clothes for myself and my baby Linda.”

Foreigners are often the focus of resentment among poor South Africans who face a chronic jobs shortage.

Chisomo Makiyi, 23, who worked at a clothes manufacturing factory in Durban, is still puzzled why they were attacked.

Be killed or go home

“Had I not run away to safety, I would not be here,” she said.

“I just don’t know why all of a sudden they start hating foreigners and giving them two choices—be killed or go home.”

Makiyi pledged to never return to South Africa despite “the good pay of $280 (a month) which back home would be a dream.”

On average, civil servants in Malawi get $100 per month while labourers receive only $50.

“My life is more important than a good salary,” she said. “I am better off being poor and without a good job than be killed in a foreign land.”

Meanwhile the United States on Monday condemned the xenophobic violence, calling on all South Africa’s leaders to take a stand against it.

“We have joined the South African government and civil society leaders in strongly condemning the violence against foreigners that’s been taking place,” said State Department acting spokeswoman Marie Harf.

She said the US was “deeply concerned” about the loss of lives and the impact on communities.

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