South Africa acts to curb attacks on foreigners

20/05/2008 - 19:41

By Marius Bosch

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African police fired rubberbullets at hundreds of shantytown residents on Tuesday in acrackdown on violence against foreigners that has killed atleast 24 people and unnerved investors.

The army could be called in to quell the violence ascriminals were exploiting the situation, the president of theruling African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma, said in aradio interview.

The rand currency fell sharply after more than a week ofattacks on African migrant workers, accused by many poortownship dwellers of stealing jobs and fuelling a wave ofviolent crime.

Local media said two people were killed overnight in theRamaphosa squatter settlement east of Johannesburg.

Police fired volleys of rubber bullets to disperse about700 people who earlier forced foreigners from the area, ReutersTV cameraman John Mkhize said. At least two people wereinjured.

Thousands of foreigners, mostly from Zimbabwe, Mozambiqueand Malawi, have fled into refugee shelters since the violencebegan on May 11 in Alexandra township.

Several foreigners have been burned to death, women rapedand scores of shops and homes looted. More than 200 people havebeen arrested.

Zuma told the BBC World Service criminals were using theattacks as a cover.

"What we have detected so far is criminality. I would notrule out (bringing in the army) because we need to take themeasures that are going to help us stop the violence," he said.

The violence unsettled investors who feared the xenophobicattacks could hurt the economy. The rand currency fell as muchas 1.7 percent to 7.68 to the dollar.

"We've got the domestic xenophobic violence which isscaring investors away, so these factors are combining tocreate a weaker rand," said David Gracey, a trader at Nedbank.

South Africa's tourism minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk,said the violence could hurt the sector, which contributesaround 8 percent of Gross Domestic Product to Africa's biggesteconomy, employs a million people and attracted 8.4 millionvisitors last year.


The South African Football Association said the attackscould harm the country's bid to host a successful soccer WorldCup in 2010.

"You know attacks like this ... are very sad for football,are very sad for the country," SAFA CEO Raymond Hack toldReuters. "So we need to ensure that it (the violence) isbrought to an end as quickly as possible".

Local World Cup organisers have dismissed persistentreports international soccer body FIFA is considering strippingSouth Africa of the tournament.

The ANC said the situation was coming under control afterit sent officials into townships to urge an end to the attacks.

Police also increased their deployment to trouble spots.

"We are going hard on the situation," said Safety andSecurity Minister Charles Nqakula.

The unrest threatens to increase political instability at atime of power shortages, rising inflation and disaffectionamong the poor over President Thabo Mbeki's pro-businesspolicies.

Mbeki has faced strong criticism, especially from ANC leftwingers, for not spreading the benefits of black rule tomillions of poor people.

South Africa, with a population of 50 million, is home toan estimated 5 million immigrants. Foreigners have been luredfrom poorer neighbours by work in mines, farms and homes and byone of the world's most liberal immigration and refugeepolicies.

The biggest group -- an estimated 3 million -- are fromZimbabwe. They have fled economic collapse at home and theviolent political standoff since disputed March 29 elections.

Mbeki's critics say his softly, softly approach has donetoo little to end the crisis or stem the flow of migrants.

(Additional reporting by Paul Simao, John Mkhize, GugulakheLourie and Stella Mapenzauswa in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelfin Cape Town; Editing by Barry Moody and Charles Dick)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say onthe violence and other top issues, visit:http://africa.reuters.com )

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