SOUTH African police fought running battles with hundreds of locals armed with knobkerries, pangas and rocks in the port city of Durban yesterday as a new wave of xenophobia showed no signs of abetting. Durban’s CBD witnessed most of the clashes between police, foreigners and locals, with a car set alight, stun grenades and tear gas canisters being fired.
Five people have died since Friday, starting with two Ethiopians who were petrol-bombed in the container they slept in and ran their small business from.
No Zimbabwean deaths have so far been reported.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo yesterday said Zimbabwe was watching with concern the unfolding wave of violence which he said appeared to be targeted at black Africans.
Whereas most media commentators have identified the violence as “xenophobia” — a hatred of foreigners — Prof Moyo used the word “Afrophobia”, which is a hatred of other Africans.
He warned that xenophobia could “easily mutate” into genocide.
“Xenophobia today can easily mutate into genocide tomorrow. Stop It,” the minister said on Twitter, using the hashtag #AfrophobiaInSAMustEnd.
Prof Moyo also took aim at Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, whose call for “foreigners to leave” appeared to have inflamed the latest anti-foreigner sentiment in KwaZulu Natal Province, whose capital is Durban.
“King Zwelithini must extinguish what he ignited. Xenophobia is a crime against humanity,” Prof Moyo tweeted in one of the first public reactions from a Zimbabwe Government official to the violence that has horrified many Zimbabweans.
Reports from South Africa said a crowd of about 700 people gathered at the end of Monty Naicker Road, where it intersects with Dr Yusuf Dadoo Road, in the Durban CBD — taunting police and baying for the blood of foreign nationals.
Police used water cannons and stun grenades to control the crowds. Pictures of a man showing injuries to his right leg circulated online with claims that he had been shot by police using rubber bullets.
As commuters headed home late in the afternoon, sirens wailed throughout the seaside city and a pall of smoke rose from the CBD.
Police spokesperson Jay Naicker said: “The police are still monitoring the situation.”
When asked to clarify unconfirmed reports on social media that a Pakistani national had been shot, or had been set alight, he replied: “We heard that there was a man injured but we cannot confirm at this stage as no case has been opened.” Rights group Amnesty International called on South Africa authorities to “launch full, transparent and independent investigations, and bring suspected perpetrators to account.”
“The prevailing culture of impunity must be stopped,” said Sicel’mpilo Shange-Buthane, executive director of Amnesty International-South Africa.
“Amnesty International has repeatedly appealed to the South African government, including in January this year, to develop a systematic plan involving the police and other agencies to prevent and protect refugees from targeted attacks,” he added.
Zimbabwean consul-general Mr Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro said: “Embassy officials arrived in Durban today (yesterday) to work with the host Government in identifying the affected people. Logistics will also be worked to assist those, including those without proper documentation, who are willing to return home and also how some can be integrated in communities willing to accommodate them. If there are gross cases we will be able to know them tomorrow.” The Durban violence outbreak follows similar uprisings in Soweto where foreign shops were looted and foreigners displaced three weeks ago.
In 2008, in the worst violence to date against foreigners, over a dozen people were killed – some burnt alive through necklacing, a barbaric slow-killing method in which a burning tyre is placed around one’s neck.
At the time, President Thabo Mbeki – horrified by the violence – said South Africans’ heads were “bowed in shame”.
“We’ve always known that regardless of the boundaries drawn by others to define us as different and separate from our kith and kin, and even despite our occupation of different spaces across the divides occasioned by the existence of the oceans that nature has formed, we share with those of whom we are part, a common destiny,” President Mbeki said.
South Africa is home to thousands of Zimbabweans, many of them illegal residents. Only last week, President Mugabe – on a State visit to Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour – thanked the South African government for its “tolerance” shown to Zimbabwean immigrants over the years.
“We owe you not just a gesture of thankfulness, which we must express, but we owe you that thankfulness for the tolerance there has been on the part of the government here, as our people have really offended your system by jumping the border and disturbing even the social system here,” the President said.
There have been calls by Zimbabweans on social media for locals to boycott a show by Durban-based group Big Nuz in protest against the xenophobic violence. The group is due to perform in Bulawayo on Friday.
Not everyone agrees with a boycott. One Twitter user shot back: “Might as well boycott all SA products in Zimbabwean shops over xenophia while you’re at it #slipperyslope.”
Another user @patphiri said: “So are people also going to boycott #SABC soapies/ SA PSL/ SA booze or #BigNuz are the fall guys?”
Meanwhile, Prof Moyo also hit back at ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s criticism of President Mugabe’s treatment of whites, saying Zimbabwe did not agree with the ANC’s view on blacks.
Prof Moyo tweeted a link to a story headlined “We differ with Mugabe on whites: Mantashe” and commented: “And we differ with ANC on blacks!”
“In Zanu-PF we reject Afrophobia,” Prof Moyo said in another tweet.
His comments were in reaction to Mantashe’s claim on Monday that the ANC “theorises colonialism differently to Zanu-PF” and has no desire to “drive white people into the sea”.