Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Photo: Police try to save a man who was set on fire by a mob attacking immigrants in Reiger Park, near Johannesburg

Thousands of foreigners sought refuge at crowded community centres and police stations in Johannesburg on Monday amid new attacks in a wave of xenophobic violence that has killed 22 people.

Mobs roaming through poor townships around South Africa's economic capital have killed and beaten up immigrants over the past week, with Zimbabweans and other Africans reporting purges by armed locals looking for foreigners.

Most horrifying of all, for a country which thought the worst was behind it, has been the return of necklacing, the appalling method of killing which involves putting a petrol-filled tyre around a victim's neck and setting it ablaze.

Now necklacing is being used against Zimbabweans and Mozambicans who have fled violence and poverty in their own countries.

In horrific attacks, mainly around Johannesburg, women have been raped and men beaten to death. Shops and homes have been looted and dozens of shacks burned to the ground.

South Africa, with a population of 50 million, is home to an estimated 5 million immigrants. Some 3.5million are Zimbabweans escaping the horror of Robert Mugabe's regime.

Though South Africa has the continent's biggest economy, with a growth rate of 5 percentfor the past four years, unemployment has stuck at around the 25 percent mark.

Now the refugees are being blamed for the jobs shortage, as well as the high rate of violent crime. Many in the townships also believe they are given preferential treatment on housing, a claim denied by the authorities.

Yesterday gangs of South Africans were touring townships, squatter camps and poorer suburbs, demanding to see people's identification papers to check their nationalities.

President Thabo Mbeki and ANC leader Jacob Zuma have both condemned the violence.

Mr Mbeki has been widely criticised for his failed 'quiet diplomacy' towards Zimbabwe which has seen a flood of refugees from the country where thousands are starving and supporters of opposition parties are being tortured and killed.

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