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Beating, Raping, Burning, and Killing Foreigners in South Africa

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Poor townships and informal settlements around the South African city of Johannesburg exploded in xenophobic violence two weeks ago, with South African black people lynching, raping, and killing legal and illegal immigrants from other African countries. 

The scenes of mobs of young and old holding knives, clubs, and wooden sticks and brutally attacking anyone who speaks or looks differently remind of the scenes from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the recent post-election violence in Kenya.

"They came at night, trying to kill us, with people pointing out, 'this one is a foreigner and this one is not,'" said an immigrant from Mozambique. "It was a very cruel and ugly hatred."

After beating, raping, and killing foreigners, angry mobs loot their belongings and set their shacks, homes, and shops on fire. So far, 24 people are reported dead, hundreds seriously injured, while over 10,000 had to take refuge in police stations and community centers.

A government official said it seems that "people think it is now fashionable to attack foreign nationals."

The attacking mobs blame the foreigners for undercutting wages, taking away jobs, houses, and women, and contributing to the crime.

Over the last decade, the number of legal and illegal immigrants in South Africa has  increased dramatically. Since the end of apartheid, Africans from all over the continent have migrated to the country, attracted to its relative prosperity. It is believed that it’s easier to illegally cross the border into South Africa than any other African country. 

With a population of about 50 million, South Africa is home to an estimated five million immigrants. Up to three million Zimbabweans recently took refuge in South Africa to escape the economic meltdown in their country under Robert Mugabe’s disastrous rule.

Many local analysts blame the government for allowing illegal immigration and not addressing the levels of poverty among its own people. Some say that the underlying cause of the xenophobic violence is the fact that the government has allowed millions of immigrants into the country "with no plan or policy in place to deal with them." 

About 50% of South Africans live on less than 3,000 rand ($400) a year, and between 25% and 40%, depending on definitions, have no job, even though the country is Africa’s economic powerhouse and contributes about 25% of its gross domestic product.

The current xenophobic violence indicates rising anger among those who complain they have been left out by the government’s economic policies. According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, "poor and ineffective governance had created a tinder box of unmet expectations," which exploded two weeks ago in poor townships and informal settlements around Johannesburg. 

The South African Police officials have said that they do not have enough manpower to cover all areas affected by the violence. This is understandable, considering the fact that South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, where between 2001 and 2006 more than 100,000 people were murdered, nearly 270,000 raped, and 1.3 million seriously assaulted. Every day, around 50 murders, 150 rapes, and nearly 700 serious assaults are committed in the country. The numbers are probably even higher considering the fact that about 30% of all crimes are not reported. 

A coalition of South African human rights groups described the current crisis as a "national emergency" and said the government should consider deployment of the military to the troubled hot spots.

Africans around the continent look in disbelief at this outbreak of vicious violence against fellow Africans. They "grieved the suffering of black people in South Africa [during apartheid]. It is thus being so myopic to suddenly turn against your yesterday sympathizers in such a violent way that leaves many dead and others undergo intense torture."

Some South African analysts ask "is it not ironic that the victims happen to be fellow Africans? This cruel reality blows out of the water any notions of pan-Africanism, never mind the African renaissance so often spoken of by [South African President] Mbeki and other politicians."

The African Renaissance is a concept popularized by the current South African President, Thabo Mbeki, in which the African people and nations are called upon to solve the many problems troubling the African continent. The goals of the African renaissance are "social cohesion, democracy, economic rebuilding and growth, and the establishment of Africa as a significant player in geo-political affairs."

The country that vowed to work on the African renaissance and solidarity is now a place where fellow Africans are raped, beaten, burned, and hacked to death.

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About Savo Heleta

  • http://www.savoheleta.com Savo

    Since I submitted this article, the South African government has decided to send the army to the troubled townships.

    The death toll has also increased to over 40 now. There are reports that the xenophobic violence is spreading beyond Johannesburg to other parts of the country.

  • Zedd

    Savo,

    This is disheartening and scary.

    While townships have always been dangerous without any real policing for decades, establishing a culture of crime, this is astonishing. People have been complaining about foreigners, first Nigerians coming in to bring drug trade and the frightening mayhem that comes with that, then Zimbabweans taking jobs and “Africanizing” South Africa with the expanding road markets and some with a different culture. side note: Many South Africans look at the rest of the continent as being a different place. They will refer to it as Africa, not sure where they think they see themselves as being???

    With the job situation being what it is, HIV/AIDS, energy issues, food prices escalating, drought in some areas, culture of crime, it’s unfortunately inevitable.

    This is one of the ugly things that occur during nation building. The former Soviet Union took it to another level. Off course we slaughtered Native Americans.

    I am saddened and scared. I hope the public will resound a massive outcry and public opinion and civility will prevail. I am also frightened by Zuma. Lord knows if he will have the sense to stabilize matters and grow the country. His carelessness and indiscretions frighten me. Thankfully there is a solid “legislative” process.
    However we’ve got to dethrone the ANC. Relying on one party is dangerous.

  • Zedd

    Richardo,

    You are simply lying. South Africa is high, very high in crime and we all know why. But suggesting that these incidences have been common is simply a lie.

    This is a new development. Are you trying to promote your website or something? Shame on you.

  • Yash

    Shame on those who attack our brothers and sisters becoz they say ngamakwerekwere,jus put urselves in their shuz, how would you feel? obviosly terrorised and victimised,would you lyk it? obviously “no” so if you do not lyk it when poeple do it to u, how come it is okay when you do it top other poeple.Beatiful South Africans, be reasonable,dnt let the Devil use ur instrumentality in his dirty Job! Umanyano ngamandla ma-Africa!”Unity is the Power Africans”!

  • Zedd

    Yash,

    Amakwerekwere, is a name that is coined to depict the perceived garbled manner of speaking of foriegners.

    The issue is not the name it is the factors which cause humans to do such horrible things.

    I’ve been astonished on these boards these past weeks just how mob rule works. The most idiotic ideas spread, some join because they are too lazy to think for themselves, others join because they are just hot heads and will join any massacre, some join because they misunderstand the issues others are followers, but the problem is that THEY JOIN. Civility is difficult for our species. Those of us with strong governance think that we are civil by nature, that we have evolved, when it is our systems that keep our natural tendancy towards mayham, at bay.

  • Ruvy

    Savo,

    Stories like yours put plans for the Durban anti-Israel hatefest, where foreigners will gather and condemn my people for the crimes they themselves foment, in its proper perspective.

    Fortunately for the gilded NGO’s and diplomats, they will not have to contend with angry South Africans trying to kill them because they are foreigners. Indeed the scum will whip up many of these same people who attack foreigners in their own countries into screaming mobs howling for the blood of Jews – who continue to leave South Africa for Israel, having finally figured out that they are no longer welcome there.

  • Ruvy

    Savo,

    The tiny minority of Jews in South Africa is trying to provide aid and comfort for refugees from riots in that nation. The tiny Jewish minority is recognizing the shot over the bow that these riots are. The riots remind them pointedly, how pogroms against them can be directed most easily by demagogues screaming anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slogans.

    And that very series of pogroms can be expected to arise in the planned “hate Jews – hate Israel” circus coming to Durban in the coming months.

    I have an Afrikaner friend, a non-Jew, who had left South Africa in 1993 for the Netherlands to rebuild his life – and who returned to South Africa recently to try to build an agriculture related business there. He is not a racist, and he loves his homeland. His previous business took him on many trips away from his family, and whenever he could he ran to be in South Africa, with or without them.

    I think he made a mistake. I fear his homeland may not love him. But he is a big boy, a tough pipe-smoking fellow of very firm beliefs behind his smiling face.

  • Zedd

    It must be stated that there have been rallies all over the country condemning the attacks. People are appalled at the thuggery. We are receiving e-mails that express shock over these horrible acts that have been done.

    This development is highly encouraging. Ubuntu is still alive and well Savo.