12 dead, 639 arrested following xenophobic violence

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Hundreds of people turned up in Johannesburg last month to march against xenophobia. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake
Hundreds of people turned up in Johannesburg last month to march against xenophobia. Picture: Elizabeth Sejake

12 people have died and 639 people have been arrested following the recent xenophobic unrest that began in Pretoria and made its way to the Johannesburg CBD.

Those who have been arrested will be going through the justice system, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele, who on Monday addressed a stakeholder summit hosted by the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry following the recent spate of attacks against foreign nationals in the country.

Cele said the unrest would not be supported.

“Nobody anywhere should think that anybody supports this kind of behaviour, whether by South Africans or by foreign nationals in South Africa,” Cele said.

He also dispelled alleged misconceptions that Nigerian president Muhammad Buhari’s upcoming visit to South Africa was brought on by the xenophobic attacks against foreigners.

“In a few weeks the president of Nigeria, [Muhammad Buhari], will be coming on a state visit to South Africa. He will be received by the president of South Africa,” Cele said.

“This decision [to visit South Africa] was taken last year when President Cyril Ramaphosa visited Nigeria,” Cele said.

South African-owned stores such as Shoprite and MTN closed their doors in Nigeria last week after their premises were attacked, supposedly in retaliation to the violence that was meted out against foreigners in South Africa. This included Nigerian-owned businesses.

Managing executive for Vodacom Business, Rudi Matjokana, cautioned South Africans on the effect the unrest had on investments in the country, saying the violent attacks deterred unity among African state.

“In the end these attacks are deterring us from our collective duty to promote Africa’s growth and economic development. Violence deters investment, and when investment is negatively affected, the vicious cycle of poverty continues,” he said at the summit.

By Thursday last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said 10 people had been killed in the unrest, two of whom were foreigners.

But on Monday, the police added two more victims to the body count, after Sunday’s unrest in the Johannesburg CBD.

Fresh protests erupted in the CBD as Inkatha Freedom Party founder and former leader Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi tried to address the angry crowds.

Buthelezi, who was in the middle of addressing hostel residents on Sunday morning with the aim of restoring calm, said that he was “depressed and concerned”, as an elder, for South Africa.

“When my country is in a crisis and as an elder I feel very, very concerned, especially because I tried to say I hadn’t come to judge anyone. My message was to say we are family with the other African countries,” Buthelezi said, as his speech was met with disruption and chaos.

Parts of the Maboneng precint and Hillbrow were affected. Looters damaged property and intimidated people whom they believed were foreigners.

The attacks took a violent turn on Sunday. One person was stabbed to death in Malvern, located in the eastern vicinity of Joburg’s central business district, and another was shot and killed in Denver.

In a statement released on Sunday, the ANC called for normality.

“We urge relevant authorities to enforce by-laws and deal decisively against those who trade in counterfeit goods and conduct business illegally. The police must act harshly against these crimes, whether committed by South Africans or foreign nationals,” ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said.

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