Zimbabweans flee shanty town attacks in South Africa

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The Independent Online

A fourth day of violence in a South African squatter camp prompted hundreds of people – most of them Zimbabweans – to seek refuge at a police station after their homes were torched by groups of vigilantes.

A fourth day of violence in a South African squatter camp prompted hundreds of people – most of them Zimbabweans – to seek refuge at a police station after their homes were torched by groups of vigilantes.

The xenophobic violence in the poor Zandspruit settlement, west of Johannesburg, is understood to have been sparked by a claim that a Zimbabwean man killed a South African woman in the squatter camp last month. About 50,000 people, most of them unemployed and many of them dual nationals, live there.

The attacks, which by last night had led to 30 arrests, prompted a new round of soul-searching in South Africa, where xenophobic abuse directed at people from other African countries has soared since the enforced isolationism of apartheid ended in 1994.

Jody Kollapen, the South African human rights commissioner, said South Africans must end their "irrational fear of foreigners''.

The African National Congress said: "These acts of xenophobia are unforgivable in a civilised society'', especially given that "South Africans owe their freedom to the support of African countries''.

About 40 families evicted from the settlement by their neighbours were said to have spent Monday night at Honeydew police station. Terry-Ann Booyse, a police spokeswoman, said women and children had been sent to a homeless people's shelter. But she feared the authorities would be unable to cope with the further 500 people she expected would be homeless by last night.

Community leaders had told the Zimbabweans to leave by Saturday, and Ms Booyse said the violence began after this "ultimatum'' expired. On Sunday, she said, 74 shacks were gutted by fire and 124 looted.

She said many of the Zimbabweans had told police that their documents – proving that they were legally in South Africa – had been destroyed by fire. "I need the government to get involved in this. I need the government to tell me where to take these people. We do not have enough shelter,'' she said.

Shack dwellers in Zandspruit said Zimbabweans had been harassed for a range of reasons, most of them apparently economic. South African women living with Zimbabwean men had also been attacked, they said.

Frances Arendse, a South African whose shack was burnt down because she lives with a Zimbabwean factory worker, said: "It's the Xhosa-speaking residents of Zandspruit who are behind the attacks. Xhosas are against Zimbabweans and they think they can do what they want because the President [Thabo Mbeki] is Xhosa.''

The attacks came as charities warned again that political instability in Zimbabwe could lead to food shortages. World Vision International predicted that about 500,000 people might run out of food by December.

* A Commonwealth delegation will arrive in Harare to see how far Zimbabwe has kept its promises on land reform. The officials said there appeared to have been a "slight lessening of the violence" in recent weeks, but that harassment of opposition figures continued.

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