Mayhem amid Durban anti-xenophobia peace march

2015-04-16 19:00

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Police are using water cannons, stun grenades and teargas to clear groups of people who have followed the anti-xenophobia march in Durban chanting slogans and calling for foreigners to go home.

A large part of the city centre around West and Field streets has been cordoned off as police continue to disperse the small crowd, who followed the march chanting “mabahambe’’ – they must go – as the several-thousand-strong peace march headed towards City Hall earlier this afternoon.

Bystanders were sprayed with water cannons as police chased the group down side streets. Shops closed their doors, with employees locked inside, as police moved from corner to corner trying to arrest the group, which split up and regrouped in response to the police charges.

Police helicopters hovered overhead as heavily armed Public Order units attempted to clear the area.

A woman required medical attention after being knocked unconscious by the spray from the water cannon, while bystanders who were caught in the crossfire tried to get out of the way of the fighting.

The city was tense as shop workers tried to get out of the area and head home.

Traffic gridlocked as the crowd moved from the City Hall, where Premier Senzo Mchunu, State Security Minister David Mahlobo, mayor James Nxumalo and First Lady Thobeka Madiba-Zuma addressed the marchers.

Madiba-Zuma called on people to “tolerate each other’’ and be patient while the government tried to address the causes of their frustration.

Mchunu told marchers that police would continue to arrest those responsible for the violence against foreigners and that the “few people’’ in the province who were involved in the attacks would be brought to book.

The government, he said, was working towards stabilising the situation and addressing the underlying conditions that had led to the violence.

Mahlobo said the situation in the province was “under control’’ and that criminal elements making use of “your plight’’ to ferment xenophobic violence were being dealt with.

He called on people to stop posting pictures of the 2008 xenophobic attacks on social media under the guise that they were taken in recent days because this “misinformation’’ was fuelling tensions unnecessarily

The march had drawn several thousand participants, but extra-parliamentary organisations and several of those representing migrant communities in the city – whose members were stopped from marching by police last week – did not participate.

Members of the ANC’s military wing in uniform acted as marshals, despite earlier calls by the organisers for participants not to wear party political regalia.

Mchunu told City Press that the province had held several meetings with King Goodwill Zwelithini to ask him to use his influence to calm the situation after his comments at Pongola two weeks ago that foreigners should pack their bags and go.

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