Flames of hatred and xenophobia


Compiled and written on Friday, the 30th of May 2008

Last year, attacks against foreigners from other African nations in South Africa's Western Cape province made headlines as scores of Somalis, Congolese and Zimbabweans felt the wrath of local residents who attacked them and looted their stores.

May Mayhem

Another two weeks of violence that have, at the time of writing, cost the lives of at least 56 people and displaced thousands of foreigners erupted after a community meeting attended by some 200 people in Alexandra, just north of Johannesburg on Sunday, the 11th of May 2008. These unemployed people, bored and facing an uncertain future, accused foreign nationals of invading their rainbow nation and taking jobs that they are supposedly entitled to. "The hate they carry in their hearts is like simmering pot [sic] -- it can boil over at any moment and spread all over. That is what happened after that meeting".

Foreigners are, of course, also blamed for the ridiculous crime rate prevalent in South Africa.

During the week, other areas like Thokoza on the East Rand became additional locations for outbreaks of xenophobic violence as attacks on foreigners continued to spread like a wildfire out of control... or did they really? "Diepsloot was not due to xenophobia, but some residents 'behaving like hooligans'". "This is pure hooliganism together with criminal elements."

Chris Vondo, ANC secretary at Zone 14 in Diepsloot said that "groups of people were looting and breaking down spaza shops -- mostly belonging to Somalians -- as well as barricading roads, despite a heavy police presence." "People are even drunk now, they are not saying anything about foreigners being in the area." "It's just unruly and destructive behaviour."

"Government 'was warned' of xenophobia"

In fact, as early as April, Gabriel Shumba, executive director of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum warned that "the pattern of incidents gives the impression that these were not isolated events but systematic and co-ordinated."

Kicking foreigners out of homes and chasing them out of townships, even cases of assault and murder, were common. Hundreds of foreigners had been targeted in townships like Mamelodi, Soshanguve and Atteridgeville near Pretoria last month.

Thabiso, a 36 year-old Zimbabwean woman, had to flee the township of Tembisa near Kempton Park after a series of xenophobic attacks. Some of the women living in the settlement said they had been raped. They said they could not inform the police, because they knew that would not help them. They even thought the police were collaborating with the mob.


"The reaction of police is cause for growing concern, as they claim they are either too scared to respond or are even complicit".

Thus, Jacob Zuma responds...

...to the attacks by residents of Alexandra who went on a rampage vandalising property they believed belonged to foreign nationals: "Our people should avoid taking their frustrations out on immigrants." "There are many opportunities in South Africa for skilled professionals... there is no need for you to move to another country, especially a developed one." "We have a constitution that guarantees human rights and the kind of society we envisage. We seek to heal the divisions of the past... and work on building a better country."

Weekend of Carnage

However, by the following weekend, some areas of South Africa had turned into what could only be described as a civil war zone. After the weekend starting Friday, the 16th of May, at least twelve people had been killed by rampaging South Africans trying to purge foreigners from informal settlements and central city districts in Johannesburg and the East Rand, following the violence in the Alexandra and Diepsloot townships.



By late afternoon marauding gangs roved Johannesburg’s streets setting alight shops owned by foreigners in Jeppestown, Cleveland and Malvern, and engaging in running battles with police.

No, this is NOT Tarro!

No, this is NOT Tarro!

Earlier, mobs attacked foreigners in Hillbrow.

Spot the flying shell!

Heavily armed police fought a ferocious battle across the greater Johannesburg area as attacks spread like wildfire.


In Jeppestown, shop-owner Ntombi Mbokazi was in tears after thugs looted her clothing store. She cried as cops ordered her off the street. "Help me, they have taken everything!" she protested, but the public-order police were only interested in containing the violence.


Armed with a shotgun, a police inspector in Cleveland said, "It's getting worse. This thing is like a wildfire; just when you think you've contained one area you hear it's erupted again in another."


Throughout the day police sirens were heard across the city as police and Metro police raced from one scene to the next.

The Burning Man

"Residents laugh as foreigner burns in his own blankets"

News photographer Halden Krog relates this horrifically tragic case of brute savagery: On Sunday, the 18th of May, as we made our way through the Ramaphosa squatter camp in Reiger Park on Gauteng's East Rand, a woman's words made us freeze in horror.

"They are burning people down there," she said.

I ran to the nearest police officer and said: "The locals say they're burning a person at the other intersection."

Officers leapt into a Casspir and a Nyala, and drove through the debris and barricades in the road. I ran after them, with other photographers following. Two hundred metres down the road we found the first man. He had been severely beaten and was semi-conscious. Police thought he was dead, but later realised he wasn't.

About 25m from him a man was on his knees. There was a mattress covering him, and it was on fire.

The burning man

He, too, was alight.

The burning man

Police threw the mattress
(or blankets, according to some reports and the pictures) off him and kicked sand onto him to put out the flames.

The burning man

The burning man

The burning man

Another officer ran over with a fire extinguisher, pointed it at him and extinguished the flames. Other officers radioed for medical help.

The burning man

The extinguished man

The man was alive, but barely. He groaned, but he could not speak.

It was all over in 20 seconds.

There was a concrete pillar lying near him, splattered with blood.
We can only imagine what was done to him before he was set alight.

The extinguished man

The police stayed with him until the paramedics arrived, doing what they could but residents gathered at the scene were laughing. Kim Ludbrook, a photographer, admonished them, and we reminded them this was a human being and that what had happened was barbaric.


"One plump woman in a knitted cap and overall couldn't contain her laughter as she pointed to the barbarous scene and related the events to locals."

The man, who's name has not been released, died the same night.

Sunday, bloody Sunday

That same Sunday, Bishop Paul Verryn called for a state of emergency after gangs targeted immigrants who were sheltering in the Central Methodist Church in the city centre, next to Johannesburg High Court. Verryn said the police had warned on Saturday that they should expect an attack even on the church which many Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Ethiopians and Malawians had seen as a safe haven.

One victim was a deaf mute who was attacked outside the church. Known only as "Tarro", the young man suffered a gash to his forehead at the hands of a mob. A medical student who tended to him said that the bewildered Tarro, who could only write his name and could not provide a surname, did not know what was happening around him.

"It was clear he did not have a clue what they (the mob) were talking about. He doesn't understand what is going on."

"Is this how you South Africans are going to treat foreigners when they come here for the World Cup?" asked one irate Zimbabwean, identifying himself only as Charles. "This is a shit country. It's a shame to the rest of the world that they are allowing the World Cup to take place here. South Africans seem to think that no one's life is precious."


Another said that his brother was beaten up on Saturday when a group of Zulu-speaking men asked him if he knew the Zulu word for "elbow" (indololwane). When he could not answer, they started beating him. "I thought I would be safe here because Mugabe is a serial killer. But these locals are just as bad," he said.

The week that followed

On Monday, more violence broke out at Kya Sands, Reiger Park, Primrose and the Bree Street taxi rank in Johannesburg, and police come under fire in the Jerusalem informal settlement outside Boksburg as they tried to stop a group of about 500 people from looting shops there.

Smoking and shooting

By then, they had also arrested some 400 people since the xenophobic unrest began, sparked by accusations that foreigners were stealing jobs from South Africans, illegally occupying RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses, and contributing to the high crime rate.

Kom saam, boetie!

16,000 people had reportedly been displaced by then.

International aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) spokesman Eric Goemaere described the situation as an imminent humanitarian crisis. "I have been to many refugee camps and situations and this definitely is along those lines."


"It's better in my own country than it is here," a Zimbabwean said on Sunday. "I would rather go back and die in Zimbabwe than be killed by South Africans."

But this opinion is not shared by all. Reports from Tuesday, the 20th of May state quite the opposite: The attacks on foreigners living in Gauteng has not led to a surge of Zimbabweans returning to their mother country according to police and customs officials at the Beit Bridge border post. Soon-to-be-deported illegal immigrant Chipangura Dzimu who had tried to return to his family already living in SA through a cut part of the fence near the border post said that it was better to be killed by South Africans than "starve to death and rot" back home. "I am here to stay. I'll never go to my country of birth to be butchered and die a painful death at the hands of Mugabe's vigilantes."

By Thursday the violence had spread to the Western Cape, with hundreds of terrified foreigners forced to run for their lives from a number of informal settlements in Du Noon, Joe Slovo in Langa, as well as Witlokasie in Knysna.

"I was forced out. I was chased away. They took all my things. They said if I come back they will kill me. Now I must go back to Somalia," Mohamed Adan, a shopkeeper said. Two Chinese nationals trembled as they ran from the shacks to the other side of the street behind a number of police officers and vehicles. They said a mob had stormed their shop and kicked them out. According to one report, Pakistanis had also been assaulted.


On Friday, the 23rd of May the Malawian government announced that it had begun helping to evacuate 850 of its citizens. "All Malawians willing to return home will be evacuated," the foreign affairs principal secretary said in a statement after confirming that a citizen had been shot dead in Durban. Zimbabwe, ironically, has also instituted an official repatriation programme.

Sunday evening was also the first time since the outbreak of the violence that president Thabo Mbeki made a "rare televised appearance" to condemn the attacks and "shameful acts". He's since flown to Japan to attend a conference called "Towards a Vibrant Africa: A Continent of Hope and Opportunity". Oh, the irony!

By the following Monday, close to 40,000 people had crossed the Lebombo border post into Mozambique during the week after Monday, the 19th of May to escape from the xenophobic attacks in SA. "At first, they were using buses and taxis, but we have now noticed that there are more pedestrians than cars," according to the Border Control Operational Co-ordinating Committee. Conversely, about 23,000 people left Mozambique for South Africa during the same period.

A refugee camp outside of Maputo, Mozambique has been set up. In the largely Indian community of Marabastad, near Pretoria, another makeshift camp was established.

Free bunnychow!

Even Soetwater, usually reserved for tourists and holiday makers, was re-functioned for those displaced. "Fog hung heavy over Soetwater, like some smoking post-apocalyptic movie set. But this was not Vietnam, or Pearl Harbour –- this was Cape Town on Africa Day 2008," a blogger writes.

Recreation Area

"There was a woman from the Congo, who was raped on Thursday, didn't know where her teenaged son was and just wanted to be given a pair of panties and a place to sleep. There was Noor-Ali from Somalia, a very smart young man in a stylish leather jacket, who had spent years working his way up from cleaning cars for change to owning his own business, only to have absolutely everything he owned snatched away from him in minutes." "Many of the refugees have survived genocide once already in Rwanda and DRC, and are just not prepared to risk it again."

And there are "more people coming to Summer Greens. They put in 20 security guards –- but the security guards ran away. Private security. Summer Greens has been a hotspot. Refugees have been aggressive, non-cooperative. No-one is keeping a record of people coming in and out, nowhere. Allegation that people are moving in and out with drugs and alcohol. Metro and SAPS trying to stabilise."

"Harmony Park. They’ve locked the gates. 'There’s enough alcohol and drugs inside there to keep them busy for the night.'" There is "reported shooting and stoning of refugees and Metro police by community in Belville South."

The third week

On Monday the National Prosecuting Authority and the justice ministry met in Pretoria to decide how the suspects would be prosecuted. "The objective is to have dedicated resources set aside to have special courts and court officials to enable us to process this as soon as possible."

"The main witnesses are now on the run and some may decide to return to their countries, so prosecution will prove to be difficult," and "it was worrying that those behind the attacks had succeeded in instilling fear in foreigners who would in the long run not testify against the perpetrators."

Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said about 1,384 people were arrested in the violence that started in Alexandra, Johannesburg and then spread to other provinces. He revised the death toll to 56 and said more than 550 shops belonging to foreign nationals were either burnt down or looted in the unrest.

"All the suspects have been charged with arson, public violence and theft."

No reports of xenophobic violence were reported on Monday night.

Blog respondent "DorianGray" said on May 19 2008 3:33AM -- "This is just abominable. The scary thing is that the locals were actually laughing at the poor man who was being burnt alive. What sort of people are they? The word "savages" comes to mind. I'm a black, African man and seeing this breaks my heart. So the man deserved death by fire simply because he's a foreigner? South Africa's reputation and standing have seriously been compromised and this will not be forgotten."

"kmoabelo" said on May 19 2008 9:25AM -- "Iam definitely not a proud African if my fellow African can be so inhuman and barbaric.This is all about being human, forget about the nonsense that some Africans countries used to be host to freedom fighters and preach that we are all members of human race.Unless we treat our fellow brothers with love, Africans will remain an inferior race untill eternity."

The attacks have raised concerns about the high crime rate in South Africa and the potential risk to foreign fans who plan to attend the FIFA Word Cup tournament in 2010.

On Thursday, the 29th of May, Willi Lemke, the UN Special Advisor on Sport, told Reuters, "The images from South Africa were horrible. They're putting an enormous strain on the soccer World Cup." Planning to travel to SA in June, he also said, "I will hear about how preparations for the Cup are moving forward. The issue of xenophobia will be a question that needs to be answered."

The world is watching, Mzansi!

Stay down, the press are watching!

[Inspired by an email from Tom Kikonyogo, with snippets and information lifted off www.iol.co.za, www.thetimes.co.za, www.news24.com, www.flickr.com, www.bizlinks.wordpress.com, and probably elsewhere]

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