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.