Tuesday, May 20, 2008

'They can't stop us'

SAFETY: A woman feeds her kids at the Germiston community centre, where 100s of foreigners have sought shelter from xenophobic attacks. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

Johannesburg - Concern mounted as xenophobic attacks continued across Gauteng on Monday, leaving at least 22 people dead and up to 10 000 people seeking refuge in shelters.

"Please stop. Please stop the violence now," Nobel peace laureate and struggle icon Desmond Tutu said in the wake of the outburst of violence.

"This is not how we behave. These are our sisters and brothers. Please, please stop."

This was in contrast to one of the 247 people arrested so far by police for crimes ranging from housebreaking, robbery and public violence.

"We will burn the Shangaans if they don't go back," were the chilling words of a 25-year old man arrested for public violence in Ramaphosa on the East Rand on Monday.

He was referring to the Tsonga-speaking group of people, mostly hailing from Limpopo and Mozambique. 'They can't stop us'

"We will fight for this country. We will keep on going, they can't stop us," said the man, speaking to Sapa reporters through the bars of holding cell at the Reiger Park police station.

The violence, which started in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg last week, spread to informal settlements on the perimeter of Johannesburg over the weekend, including Zamimpilo in Riverlea, Diepsloot and Kya Sands to the west of Johannesburg, and Ramaphosa and Makause in the east, as well as to Tembisa and Tokoza.

More police

In response, police will be bolstered by the deployment of specialists trained in medium and high risk situations, according to a statement from acting National Police Commissioner Tim Williams' office.

"They will be deployed soon," said Gauteng police spokesperson Director Govindsamy Mariemuthoo, the only policeman now allowed to speak to the media on the subject.

In the Western Cape, police had drawn up a contingency plan, should past attacks of xenophobia be repeated in the province.

Meanwhile, police in the Ramaphosa township on Monday night braced themselves for further violence, with the main road into the township barricaded by metro police, who were ordering vehicles to turn around, a Sapa reporter on the scene said.

As dark set in onlookers lined the street watching as police prepared for the night.

Residents taunted

A woman, who declined to give her name, said the violence in the East Rand settlement started on Friday night when some "Shangaans" sang and taunted residents on the streets of Ramaphosa.

She said it was only on Saturday night that the situation became uncontrollable when local residents retaliated against this.

More people flocked to the police station in Reiger Park, already packed with adults and children seeking refuge alongside huge piles of suitcases and bags.

Bakkies were piled with furniture as foreigners left the area and a man on foot was seen carrying a couch on his head as he headed for the safety of the police station.

Neighbours offered them cups of tea and coffee while the Red Cross and the Anglican church next door helped with food and shelter.

At least 10 000 people are already taking refuge in community centres in the Ekurhuleni area, metro spokesperson Zweli Dlamini said.

Ambulances driving up and down

"The figures are escalating as people run for their dear lives," said Dlamini.

Ambulances are "driving up and down", he said, and clinics are on alert to deal with violence, as well as the medical needs of the displaced.

Organisations such as the SA Jewish Board of Deputies and Islamic Relief Worldwide have joined the appeals for food and clothing to help those displaced.

Meanwhile, statements of condemnation continued to pour in.

"For the hatred to boil over in May, the month when we celebrate Africa Day, is an embarrassment for all South Africans," said the Western Cape branch of the former soldiers of the ANC's military wing, the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association.

Never made to feel unwelcome

The association resolved to educate people on the assistance provided to them when they fled to neighbouring countries during apartheid and apologised for the treatment of foreigners in South Africa.

"Our presence on the ground caused problems for the governments that sheltered us, attracting unwelcome attention from the apartheid state, but never were we made to feel unwelcome."

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) said two miners from neighbouring countries had been killed in the violence and three injured, and, joined the call for military intervention.

"Many members of the NUM come from neighbouring countries such as Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland and others.

"We therefore cannot allow the situation to be polarised further," said Oupa Komane, NUM deputy general secretary.

President Thabo Mbeki's spokesperson, Mukhoni Ratshitanga, said the President was "very concerned" by developments and reiterated a call for the violence to stop.

"We are taking these things very seriously," he said.

Meanwhile the National Union of Metalworkers of SA said they would launch a campaign to educate metalworkers against the dangers of criminalising foreigners and portraying them as undesirable.

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