From The TimesMay 15, 2008
Immigrants are hit by township violenceJonathan Clayton in Alexandra
The name scrawled across the door of the flimsy wooden shack offered some protection. The angry mob baying for the blood of foreigners recognised it as South African and moved on.
A little down the street, however, Willex Katundu, a Malawian who has lived in Alexandra township in Johannesburg for 23 years, was not so fortunate. A gang of ten broke into his house, ransacked his belongings and beat him up – he was only one of dozens to be attacked over the past 48 hours.
“I was beaten just because I am not South African,” he said, as he sought sanctuary in the grounds of the township’s main police station, along with about 1,000 others mainly from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. A groundsman at a golf club, he sobbed as he recounted how he had lost his possessions.
For the past two nights the township – notorious for its bloodshed during the apartheid era – has been seized by an outbreak of xenophobic violence. At least three people have been killed and two women reportedly gang-raped in the latest in a series of increasingly ferocious attacks on foreigners across the country.
Edinburgh Theatre: Township Stories
Word on the street is ... Scamto
Terrified South Africans living in the township have taken to daubing their names on their homes to avoid mobs – which have fought running battles with police reinforcements – mistaking them for foreigners.
It does not always work. Yvonne Ndlovu from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, and who married a South African, was set upon and beaten until, bloodied and bleeding, she fled with neighbours’ shouts of “Good riddance. Hambani makwerekwere” (Go away, foreigners) ringing in her ears.
The violence in Alexandra started on Sunday evening when an enraged mob marched to a hostel in London Road, targeting foreigners mainly from Zimbabwe whom they accuse of stealing precious jobs and contributing to worsening crime rates.
The crowd beat the immigrants, forced others from their rooms and shot dead two men – one a South African who refused to take part in the attack.
Scores of refugees, many “illegal” immigrants, flocked to Alexandra police station for protection. Despite extra police with riot gear taking up positions across the township, violence again erupted on Monday night, drawing condemnation from politicians and soul-searching on the part of other South Africans.
“Is this the new South Africa?” screamed the front page of the South African Times under a picture of a bloodied Ms Ndlovu. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has condemned the attacks, but others point to frequent warnings of mounting tensions in townships that the ANC Government has ignored.
Since the end of apartheid in 1994, a black middle class has emerged and drives much of the economy, but the poorest 30 per cent of the country’s overwhelmingly black population is as badly off, if not worse, than in the days of white rule. In the townships, where anger over poor services is already high, unemployment can be at more than 50 per cent and foreigners are often regarded as a threat.
Zimbabweans, who tend to be well educated and prepared to work for a fraction of the salaries demanded by South Africans, are particularly seen as taking jobs from locals.
It is estimated that as many as three million Zimbabweans are living in the country, the majority without official papers.
Yesterday the victims of the violence sheltered in a garage at the back of the police station while the Red Cross provided blankets and food parcels. Jane Muzolewa, 41, who left Zimbabwe for South Africa two months ago, said that the violence had cost her what few possessions she had managed to bring with her. “I thought I could find peace here after going through hell in my country. I can’t believe that my life has been ruined by my decision. I now can’t look after my child. I am completely torn apart.”
Many South African residents were unrepentant. “They should go back to their countries. Why have they come to take up our jobs?” said one local, Joel Mandla, as he watched police patrolling the streets from a nearby bar.
On the move
South Africa’s nickname “the Rainbow Country” is said to stem from its diversity of people, cultures and natural scenery
An historic peak in immigration occurred in 1975 – largely because of a doubling in the number of immigrants from Britain between 1973 and 1975 and accentuated by immigration from Mozambique in the aftermath of independence
An estimated three million Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa as a result of the economic crisis in their home country
Ten million people are estimated to have flowed across South Africa's borders since 1994. They are termed collectively as makwerekwere – a derogatory name for foreigners who travel south in search of a better life
The South African Government announced last year that it was hoping to attract about 35,000 skilled foreigners in 53 different occupations to make up for shortages caused by a native “brain drain” or emigration of skilled professionals
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