The ANC's secretary general Ace Magashule has denied the existence of xenophobia in South Africa, describing the attacks on foreigners as mere "criminality". But FWM spoke to Malawians and Congolese who contradicted Magashule.
The death toll in the South African province of Gauteng has risen to seven after police found two charred bodies in Alexandra, Johannesburg, inside shops torched by xenophobic looters.
Both provincial police spokesperson Captain Kay Makhubele and Johannesburg Metro Police Department spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar confirmed the two deaths.
Magashule, invited by the SA Students Congress (Sasco) to speak at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria on Wednesday, told journalists that there was no xenophobic violence. “Criminals are actually seizing the opportunity to do [wrong] … that’s why we say police must act very harshly against criminals,” said Magashule.
“What I know, which is factual, is that our presidents, the presidents of Africa are talking, and they have analysed this correctly. They know what is happening. It is not acts of xenophobia, it’s acts of criminality,” Magashule told the media on the sidelines of a Sasco student council election rally.
He said instead there were some “tribal battles” taking place.
In Diepsloot, a black township in the north of Johannesburg, FWM spoke to several Malawians. Their belongings had been stolen by South Africans, they say, and they are afraid to return to their accomodation. Looters also targeted foreign owned shops in the township. According to one Malawian, they were burning shops belonging to Ethiopians and Somalis.
The owner of the residence where the Malawians stay, said the South Africans arrived in a white Toyota truck on Monday morning and started kicking down doors and emptying the rooms, loading plasma televisions and other valuables onto the truck while the Malawians were away. One Malawian said his clothes were stolen and all his shoes, six pairs.
Gauteng’s been the hardest hit province with xenophobic violence registered across all three of its big metros.
In Hillbrow, Johannesburg, a Congolese immigrant showed FWM a video on his cellphone of a foreigner being set on fire. The man was visibly anxious. He said he wanted to leave because black South Africans did not want foreigners in their country. The Congolese immigrant, who speaks French, is currently employed by one of the major supermarkets as a manager. “If the foreigners and the whites leave, this country will implode,” he said.
Police have meanwhile arrested three blacks after they opened fire on a large crowd of looters in the black township of Thokoza, east of Johannesburg, on Wednesday.
Gripped by the wave of xenophobic violence, the three men, aged between 27 and 40, were arrested after empty gun cartridges were discovered by police.
“They [the police] received information that people who had allegedly opened fire at a crowd of protesters were driving in two separate white sedans,” said a police spokesperson. Police tracked down the two vehicles and found two unlicensed firearms with ammunition.
Since the unrest started in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni on Sunday, 289 people have been arrested for looting and public violence.
The head of strategic communications and member of the World Economic Forum (WEF) executive committee, Olivier Cann meanwhile confirmed that Malawi and Rwanda would not be attending the forum because of the xenophobia-related violence in the province. The conference will now be moved to Cape Town.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a spokesperson from the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), has not confirmed their attendance while no correspondence was received from Malawi’s Peter Mutharika either, suggesting that both countries will not be attending the event.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari summoned South Africa’s envoy on Tuesday and said it would send a delegation to Pretoria to express “deep concern” over the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians.
South African companies are feeling the wrath of other Africans on the continent as a result of the xenophobia. Cellphone giant MTN, MultiChoice and Shoprite have closed shops in Nigeria and Zambia because South African companies are being targeted by protesters following the attacks in Gauteng.
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