30 detained as xenophobic attacks continue in South Africa

Anti-foreigner violence that first erupted in the eastern city of Durban has so far killed six people and displaced thousands.

A local man gestures with a stick outside a hostel during the anti-immigrant violence in Johannesburg on April 17, 2015. Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
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JOHANNESBURG // South African police detained more than 30 people overnight as xenophobic violence simmered around the city of Johannesburg, police said on Saturday.

Anti-foreigner violence that erupted in the country’s eastern port city of Durban several weeks ago and spread to Johannesburg has so far killed at least six people and displaced thousands, sparking alarm at the United Nations and in neighbouring countries.

In night-time raids, small groups attacked shops in several areas around Johannesburg.

“More than 30 people were arrested last night. At this stage the situation is calm but we plan to increase our deployment,” police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini said on Saturday.

“They are going to be charged for public violence, malicious damage to property, house breaking and theft,” he said.

Police had to use rubber bullets to disperse the looters in Alexandra, an impoverished township north of the city, he said.

Several thousand foreigners have fled their homes to shelter in makeshift camps amid the violence, and neighbouring Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique have announced plans to evacuate their citizens.

The latest burst of anti-foreigner violence in the country has been largely blamed on a speech last month by King Goodwill Zwelithini, traditional leader of the Zulus, in which he blamed foreigners for South Africa’s high crime rate and said they must “take their bags and go”.

The king has since said his words were misinterpreted, but for some, Mr Zwelithini simply articulated what many were feeling.

This is not the first wave of anti-foreigner violence in South Africa. In January, foreign shopkeepers in and around the vast township of Soweto, south of Johannesburg, were forced to flee and six were killed as looters rampaged through the area.

In 2008, 62 people were killed in xenophobic violence across the city’s townships.

* Agence France-Presse