(AFP) – May 19, 2008
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) — Thousands of foreigners sought refuge at crowded community centres and police stations in Johannesburg on Monday amid new attacks in a wave of xenophobic violence that has killed 22 people.
Mobs roaming through poor townships around South Africa's economic capital have killed and beaten up immigrants over the past week, with Zimbabweans and other Africans reporting purges by armed locals looking for foreigners.
Crowds of people gathered at community centres and police stations in affected parts of the Johannesburg area -- mainly the notorious central downtown area and slum areas to the east of the city.
"Last night we had more than 2,000 people," said Mxolisi Koom, a volunteer at the Germiston Civic Centre which is near a squatter camp that was attacked in the East Rand, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) from central Johannesburg.
In Reiger Park, a slum area in the outlying East Rand, new violence erupted early Monday, with residents forced to flee as their homes were set alight, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Alongside one shack, a man lay beaten and bloody, with burns on his legs from attempts to set him on fire.
On Sunday an immigrant died after being covered with his own blankets and set alight. The gruesome image of the human fireball was captured on the front-page of several South African papers on Monday.
"All these things are the fault of the Zimbabweans. They should just go," said a South African woman in Reiger Park, who identified herself as Noxolo. Her shack was also flattened in the rampage.
The violence erupted in Alexandra township early last week when two people were killed in an attack, and police said Monday that the number dead had risen to 22 with more than 200 arrested.
"An update has shown 22 have been killed since the start of the violence last week and 217 have been arrested," police spokesman Govindsamy Mariemuthoo told AFP, adding that some of these were "criminal elements."
The violence has displaced thousands of foreigners, who are accused by many South Africans of depriving locals of jobs and committing crime.
In the downtown Cleveland area, where six were reported dead in overnight violence in the early hours of Sunday morning, shops remained closed, police said.
"There's nothing in the street," local police spokesman Cheryl Engelbrecht told AFP. "It's very tense. There's no place open at all."
At least 300 people were sheltering at the local police station, she said, where they were being cared for by the South African Red Cross and local community groups.
The bulk of the immigrants who have flooded South Africa in recent years are from Zimbabwe, with an estimated three million having fled the economic meltdown and political crisis in their homeland.
President Thabo Mbeki and leader of the ruling African National Congress Jacob Zuma have both strongly condemned the attacks.
The Human Rights Commission on Monday accused government of failing to take the swelling threat of xenophobia seriously.
"There has been poor leaderhsip in this country as far as these issues are concerned," HRC chief executive Tseliso Thipanyane told public radio.
Thipinyane said the sudden outburst was the result of festering anger at a lack of resources, and the large influx of immigrants, estimated at up to five million.
"There is definitely a competition for scarce resources, houses and jobs and other services. If you look at where the majority of attacks have happened, it's largely in poor areas, where black people find themselves living.
"It is in the townships, the inner city where conditions are quite terrible. You have poor black people fighting against poor black people from other countries."
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