Flames of xenophobic hatred burn in Gauteng
Resource type: News
Business Day |
by Ernest Mabuza
THE violence that started as isolated attacks on foreigners in northern Johannesburg’s Alexandra township last week had by yesterday turned into a ring that encircled half of the city and spread into the city centre.
A drive west from Cleveland on Johannesburg’s industrial edge followed the latest trail of violence against foreign nat-ionals.
By 10am, scores of people were fleeing the Cleveland informal settlement and crossing the M2 freeway en route to the police station to seek refuge following an attack that started at 1am and which left as many as five people dead yesterday.
This brought the weekend death toll to 12.
Hostel dwellers could be seen witnessing the spectacle from their windows.
Reports said hundreds of foreigners had sought refuge at the police station following the attacks that started in Denver hostel.
Democratic Alliance leader in Gauteng Jack Bloom said that when he was at the station at about 11.30am, there were about 600 refuge seekers there. By 3.45pm, however, the streets of Cleveland had slowed to an eery calm. Gun-toting police were everywhere, keeping an eye on groups of people gathering sporadically.
Police patrol vehicles prowled and occasionally sped towards another suspected outbreak of violence.
Attempts to reach the Cleveland police station proved fruitless as police blocked the way, saying it was not safe. A number of cars made U-turns while the odd minibus taxi continued undeterred towards the station.
Heading west, Jules Street in Malvern was littered with garbage – testimony that looting had taken place yesterday morning.
Two burnt out cars added a more sinister note to the scene.
A drive through the nearby streets saw scores of groups of people, mostly men, who seemed intent on provoking the police patrolling the suburb.
The groups stood defiantly, throwing the occasional stone at passing vehicles. When a police car pulled in to investigate, the group split. Many of the men were drunk.
Earlier yesterday, there were reports of skirmishes in the Central Methodist Church in Pritchard Street. The church is known for providing shelter to as many as 1 000 foreigners, mostly Zimbabwean.
Bishop Paul Verryn, who oversees the inner-city church, said police had called on Saturday and warned him about a possible attack on foreigners.
During the 10am service, there was some kind of skirmish outside and I had to intervene, Verryn said.
However, by the afternoon a number of foreign nationals were milling around outside the church in a relaxed mood and there were no police in sight.
Vehicles belonging to humanitarian organisation Medecins sans Frontieres were preparing to leave the church yesterday afternoon because the situation had normalised.
Hillbrow seemed tense and there was a strong police presence following attacks on street hawkers .
Here the trail stopped, at the end of a weekend that saw 200 people arrested for offences such as rape, robbery and public violence. The Red Cross said 3000 people had been rendered destitute across Gauteng.
A Zimbabwean national who has been living in Soweto for more than a year said the violence was not spontaneous .
“It seems to be well planned action,” said Munjodzi Mutandiri, a co-ordinator of the Zimbabwe Youth Network. “We should try to find the real perpetrators behind these xenophobic attacks.”