Police arrest 17 in South Africa as attacks on foreigners spread

An injured foreign national (centre) talks to his countrymen at Chatsworth football grounds south of Durban on February 10, 2015. More than 1,000 people have been displaced and forced to flee their homes after a week of xenophobic violence near the eastern city of Durban. PHOTO | RAJESH JANTILAL |

What you need to know:

  • Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has called on traditional leaders to stop making remarks that “could result in a loss of life”.
  • Clashes had now also spread to KwaMakhutha and Umlazi, also in the south of Durban.
  • In 2008, 62 people were killed in Johannesburg townships.

DURBAN, Saturday

South African police have arrested 17 people after attacks on foreign nationals in Durban.

The violence comes in the wake of alleged comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini that migrants should go home — although he says he was mistranslated.

But Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has called on traditional leaders to stop making remarks that “could result in a loss of life”.

“Africa in particular must not think that we hate fellow Africans so much that we are prepared to cause them harm,” he said.

Following the alleged comments by King Zwelithini at the end of March, more than 1,000 mainly African migrants have fled their homes, some going to police stations and others being housed in tents on a sports field.

South African President Jacob Zuma’s son, Edward, has come out in support of the Zulu king.

“We need to be aware that we are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” he said, adding that foreigners were “taking over the country”.

Raphael Baheybwa-Kambambire, president of lobby group Congolese Solidarity Campaign, told the BBC that religious leaders met with the Zulu monarch on Thursday who told them he was talking “about those who don’t have papers and documentation in South Africa”.

As the violence against foreign immigrants spread, two Somalis suffered serious burns when their shop in Umlazi, south of Durban, was petrol bombed on Friday night by a mob, police said Saturday.

“They suffered severe burns and are being treated in hospital,” police spokesman Thulani Zwane said.

Zwane said three people, including a foreigner, had been killed so far — two on April 5 and a third on Friday — in the violence that has been raging for the past two weeks.

“The situation is still tense in all affected areas, and police are out in force to prevent further clashes,” Zwane said.

Several mini grocery shops owned by foreign nationals in Isipingo and Chatsworth, where the unrest began, have been looted and vandalised.

Clashes had now also spread to KwaMakhutha and Umlazi, also in the south of Durban.

On Wednesday police broke up an illegal march by foreigners who were protesting against the violence, firing water canon and tear gas.

Clashes between immigrants and locals often flare in South Africa, as impoverished residents accuse them of taking their jobs.

FORCED TO LEAVE

Foreign business owners in black townships are increasingly under attack from local residents.

Early this year, foreign shopkeepers in and around Soweto, south of Johannesburg, were forced to vacate their premises after violence and looting broke out.

In 2008, 62 people were killed in Johannesburg townships.

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