Migrants flee South Africa as army deals with mobs

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The Independent Online

More than 10,000 Mozambicans have fled from South Africa to escape xenophobic attacks that have killed at least 42 people.

Soldiers backed police in early morning raids at three male hostels in Johannesburg and air force helicopters patrolled Alexandra township, where violence erupted on 11 May, after President Thabo Mbeki approved army intervention.

The ruling ANC's deputy leader, Kgalema Motlanthe, criticised police for reacting too slowly to 11 days of attacks on African migrants, which have driven at least 15,000 people from their homes and prompted thousands to return to their countries. Armed mobs have accused the migrants, who are mostly from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, of stealing jobs and fuelling crime, and have burnt to death several people. Scores of shacks have been looted and torched.

Leonardo Boby, a senior Mozambican migration official, said 10,047 people had returned home in buses provided by the government. "The number is likely to increase in the next days as long as violence unfolds in South Africa," he added.

Mr Motlanthe said: "We are confronted by one of the ugliest incidents in the post-apartheid era." He added that the police's delay in confronting the violence "encouraged people in similar environments to wage similar attacks against people who came from our sister countries".

Jacob Zuma, who defeated Mr Mbeki to take the ruling party leadership in December, said he welcomed the army's deployment.

The attacks on migrants have increased political instability in South Africa at a time of power shortages and disaffection over Mr Mbeki's policies. Soaring food and fuel prices have helped raise tension.