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South Africans Condemn Attacks, Vow to End Violence


Discussions have reportedly begun in South Africa to find a lasting solution to the escalating attacks on foreigners. This comes after some youths armed with machetes and clubs beat up foreigners that led to a loss of lives and property. South Africa’s police have reportedly said they are working hard to clamp down in what they describe as criminal behavior. Political leaders and civic and non-governmental organizations have unanimously condemned the attacks, which have left at least 22 people dead and scores injured in what are seen as appalling xenophobic attacks by youth mobs.

Some political analysts see the attacks as an embarrassment to both President Thabo Mbeki and the ruling African National Congress party. VOA’S Scott Bobb is following developments. From Johannesburg he tells reporter Peter Clottey that officials are trying to find ways to end the ongoing violence.

“The violence which began in the Johannesburg area a little bit of a week ago, escalated this weekend, and there was something like 13 or more deaths. Police announced Monday that there have been 22 deaths in the past week since it began in the township of Alexandria, and that is the fear. Not only has the death toll risen, and there are dozens wounded in addition. But it’s spread and dozens of communities have been affected by this in different areas. And these are usually impoverished communities. Some of them are informal settlements or shanty towns,” Bobb noted.

He said some South Africans went around attacking people who are perceived as foreign to the country.

“The attacks were sparked by people they believe are foreigners, they want them to go home, to scare them and force them to leave their homes. Sometimes they take all of their belongings; sometimes they are allowed to leave with their belongings. As a result you have thousands of people who have taken refuge in police stations, churches and community centers and so forth out of fear for their lives,” he said.

Bobb said various reasons have been attributed to the ongoing attacks on foreigners.

“The police believe it is primarily and mostly criminal, and there is no question that people are taking advantage of this to loot, and in addition, South African nationals have been both hurt and have had their property taken. So there is a strong criminal element to all of these. But to get out the frustrations and the resentments, these are fairly longstanding, and we’ve had such incidence in other parts of the country as far back as two or three years ago,” Bobb pointed out.

He said leaders in the country have condemned the ongoing attacks on foreigners.

“The South African leadership -- political, religious and civic -- has been virtually unanimous in condemning this and trying to remind people that South Africa is a rainbow nation and a nation of welcome and human rights. And many South African leaders themselves were hosted by neighboring countries during the anti-apartheid struggle. So, the reaction has been one of very strong condemnation. Nevertheless, these acts and these incidents continue, and this is what is getting people worried,” he said.

Bobb said there are ongoing discussions to find a lasting solution to the escalating violence against foreigners.

“Well, we are just at the starting face of that at least at the political level, some of the civic groups have warned of this for some time, and have made studies. They want to try to educate the public and explain the situation. Also there are efforts to try to provide more of a safety net for these people who are really teething on the edge of not just poverty, but misery because of rising prices and lack of income,” Bobb noted.

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