Posted by on February 24, 2017 4:05 pm
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Categories: Africa Apartheid cellular telephone Discrimination Economy Identity politics Jacob Zuma national police Prejudices Pretoria Racism Racism in South Africa Reuters South Africa unemployment War xenophobia Xenophobia in South Africa

The US is not the only country undergoing social upheaval and polarization over its treatment of foreigners. On Friday, police in South Africa fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse rival protest marches in the capital Pretoria, after mobs looted stores belonging to immigrants earlier in the week. According to BBC, a low-flying police helicopter was also been deployed amid the stand-off between local protesters and foreigners, with both groups armed with sticks, bricks and knives, prompting police to disperse the angry mobs.

SA nationals march through city in protest against foreigners

South African nationals marched through Pretoria to protest against immigrants

The main group behind the Pretoria protests, Mamelodi Concerned Residents, has blamed foreign nationals for taking jobs and accused them of being involved in prostitution rings and drug cartels, accusations denied by immigrant communities. The petition delivered by the group to the home affairs ministry alleged worshippers from Zimbabwean apostolic churches, who congregate in the open, were “destroying our public parks”, and accused them of defecating, urinating and burning fires.  

It also said foreigners were “arrogant and don’t know how to talk to people, especially Nigerians”.

SA nationals drive around looking for foreigners

Some protesters were driving around looking for foreigners

A man reacts to tear gas fired by police fire to disperse rival marches

A man holds his South African identity document after being attacked by a mob

President Jacob Zuma condemned acts of violence between citizens and non-nationals, his office said in a statement on Friday. Zuma appealed to citizens not to blame all crime on non-nationals. Zuma said many foreign citizens living in South Africa were law-abiding and contributed to the economy. “It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers. Let us isolate those who commit such crimes and work with government to have them arrested, without stereotyping and causing harm to innocent people,” Mr Zuma said in a statement. He said he would be championing the fight against crime to promote safer and more stable communities.

Which is ironic because two weeks ago Zuma suggested that he was preparing to adopt the worst of Zimbabwe’s pre-hyperinflationary policies, when the unpopular president told parliament he plans to redistribute white-owned land and business.

Somali immigrant armed with a rock is blocked by a police officer
A Somali man armed with a rock is separated by police from anti-immigrant protesters

Many unemployed South Africans accuse foreigners of taking their jobs, and made it clear today. It is not the first time anti-immigrant violence has flared in South Africa against a background of near-record unemployment, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from citizens and involvement in crime.

Meanwhile, many parts of the nation have started to resemble a warzone: shops were shuttered in Marabastad, an area of western Pretoria where many foreign nationals have their stores, and roads were blocked as the marchers gathered. Some of the foreigners carried rocks and sticks, saying they were ready to protect their stores. One Somali shopowner, 37, said he feared for his life. “My shops get looted a few times a year,” he said.

Man stands outside looted shop with broken glass on the floor
Pakistani-owned shops were targeted during the protests

Today’s marches follow the looting this week of at least 20 small businesses believed to belong to Nigerian and Pakistani immigrants. Residents said they had attacked the shops because they were dens of prostitution and drug dealing, according to Reuters. Some said they had lost jobs to the foreigners.

SA national wearing balaclava and carrying a rock walks ahead of an armed policeman
Police in Pretoria have made more than 100 arrests in the past 24 hours

A 34-year old South African, who declined to be named, told Reuters a Zimbabwean took his job at a manufacturing plant because he was willing to work for less. “The police must leave us alone so we can  sort them out,” he said, pointing at a group of foreign shop owners.

Random acts of violence, looting and destruction of property had occurred, Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane said. “Over 24-hour period, 156 have been arrested,” Phahlane told a news conference, and “those inciting violence will face prosecution.” It was unclear how many of those in custody were South Africans and how many foreigners.

South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba on Thursday acknowledged violence had flared up against foreigners this year, adding that “unfortunately, xenophobic violence is not new in South Africa.” In retaliation, Nigerian protesters vandalized the head office of South African mobile phone company MTN in Abuja on Thursday. Earlier this week, Nigeria’s foreign ministry said it would summon South Africa’s envoy to raise its concerns over “xenophobic attacks” on Nigerians, other Africans and Pakistanis.

The home affairs minister announced plans on Thursday to inspect workplaces to see if firms are employing undocumented foreigners.

Police in Pretoria say they have made more than a hundred arrests in the past 24 hours, amid the unrest.

The foundation of late South African leader Nelson Mandela says it was shocked at the decision by police to give the go-ahead for Friday’s anti-foreigner protest, calling it “a march of hatred”. Official government figures say the number of immigrants in South Africa has declined in recent years. Figures released last year said there were 1.6 million foreign-born people in the country, down from 2.2 million in 2011.

South Africa experienced its worst outbreak of violence against foreigners in 2008, when more than 60 people died. Two years ago, similar xenophobic unrest in the cities of Johannesburg and Durban claimed seven lives as African immigrants were hunted down and attacked by gangs.

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