South African police fire rubber bullets as attacks on immigrant shops spread – CNN International
Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN)South African police fired rubber bullets Friday to disperse crowds setting immigrant businesses ablaze as the attacks spread to Johannesburg.
Chanting and singing, machete-armed residents set immigrants’ businesses on fire, including a Nigerian dealership in the nation’s largest city.
Immigrants carrying bricks accused police of not doing enough to protect them as shops and the dealership smoldered.
Violence targeting immigrant shops started this week in Durban, where two foreign nationals and three South Africans were killed. Residents have accused African immigrants of taking their already scarce jobs. The unemployment rate in South Africa is 25%, according to government figures.
As the violence spread to other cities, terrified immigrants sought a resolution. Others fled, taking refuge in police stations in major cities.
“They are using this as scapegoats,” said Jean-Pierre Lukamba, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Every day, migrants are living in this fire. It’s not just attacks. It’s institutionalized xenophobia. The government must do something. Those people aren’t just mad for no reason. They want electricity, they want jobs, they want water.”
‘They don’t understand the history of Africa’
Lukamba said he’s part of an organization trying to negotiate between the two sides.
“They don’t understand the history of Africa; if they do, they would know each of us, we are one,” he said.
Thousands sought refuge in temporary shelters, with aid group Gift of the Givers saying about 8,500 people fled to refugee centers or police stations this week because of the violence. The number did not include those who have moved in with friends or relatives.
The aid group said it has a facility in Johannesburg to help those who might need shelter.
“There has been an outpouring of support from ordinary South Africans who are disgusted with the attacks not only because they are foreign, or African, but because they are fellow human beings,” said Gift of the Givers, which is helping those seeking refuge.
“We are preparing aid packages for those who may journey onwards to their home countries.”
Police working around the clock
President Jacob Zuma has condemned the attacks and appealed for calm.
“No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” he said. “The attacks violate all the values that South Africa embodies, especially the respect for human life.”
Zuma said he has ordered police to work around the clock to protect citizens and immigrants, and arrest the perpetrators.
In the past, Johannesburg has been the epicenter of anti-immigrant tensions.
In 2008, scores were killed in attacks in the poorest areas of Johannesburg. Most of the victims were Zimbabweans who had fled repression and dire economic circumstances. In that attack, police arrested more than 200 people for various crimes, including rape, murder, robbery and theft.