Tuesday, 21 April 2015

South Africa deploys the army in townships hit by xenophobia

South Africa said on Tuesday it was deploying the army to hotspots that have been hit by a wave of xenophobic violence to support police who have struggled to contain the attacks.

The dramatic move highlights the sense of crisis in the country after three weeks of attacks by South Africans against African immigrants, which have led to at least seven deaths and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the defence minister, said the soldiers would be deployed to volatile areas of KwaZulu Natal, the province where the worst of the violence has taken place, and Alexandra, an impoverished township outside Johannesburg.

“The army will be deployed because there is a crisis,” she said.
A Zimbabwean couple was reportedly attacked in Alexandra on Monday night, while the South African Sunday Times published graphic pictures of a Mozambican man being stabbed and killed in the township over the weekend. The pictures reinforced the sense of shame the attacks have generated among many South Africans.

The government was criticised for initially being slow to react. But in recent days it has taken firmer action, setting up ministerial task teams, while President Jacob Zuma cancelled a trip to Indonesia because of the violence.

Officials said at the weekend that 307 people had been arrested in connection with the attacks, while seeking to reassure thousands of foreigners who have fled to makeshift camps that they will be protected.

“We cannot continue with what has been going on; we are now reclaiming authority of the state,” Ms Mapisa-Nqakula said. “We cannot have people riding on the backs of innocent South Africans because out there the world believes that all South Africans are the same. The perception created is that we are not protecting foreign nationals.”

The army was also deployed to support police in 2012 during violent strikes by miners around a platinum mine in Marikana after police had shot and killed 34 striking miners.

South Africa is estimated to be home to up to 5m immigrants, many from poorer neighbouring countries who travelled to Africa’s most advanced economy in search of a better life.

Many of those attacked operate informal shops in townships but some South Africans accuse foreigners of depriving locals of jobs and business opportunities.

The violence has highlighted the festering anger felt by poorer South Africans who complain about the slow pace of economic transformation in the 21 years since the first democratic election.

In spite of boasting Africa’s most developed economy, South Africa is one of the world’s most unequal societies, with poverty and unemployment widespread, particularly in the townships.

The situation is being exacerbated by the fragile state of the economy, which is enduring weak growth and is often affected by electricity outages as Eskom, the state utility, grapples with a power crisis.

The violence against foreigners has tarnished South Africa’s image across the continent and sparked concerns about reprisal attacks against South Africans abroad.

Some 340 South Africans working on Sasol projects in Mozambique — most of whom are employees of service providers contracted by the energy group — have been temporarily repatriated as a precaution. Kenmare Resources, a Dublin-based, London-listed miner, said on Monday it had repatriated 62 South Africans working at its titanium mine in Mozambique.

It is the second spate of xenophobic violence this year after at least five people were killed when South Africans attacked and looted hundreds of foreign-run shops in townships in and around Johannesburg in January.

In 2008, more than 60 foreigners died in xenophobic attacks.

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