Thousands of Zimbabweans flee, fearing attacks

Some of their shacks in an informal settlement were attacked and demolished

The attacks took place early in the morning of 17 November in Stofland, meaning dustland in Afrikaans, the largest squatter camp in De Doorns. All the displaced Zimbabweans are documented.

The local police station commander, Superintendent Desmond van der Westhuizen, told IRIN the local residents were unhappy that farm owners had been employing Zimbabweans for "less money", and had complained that farmers were "excluding the local community".

''But the residents threatened to prevent the Zimbabweans from going to work on 17 November [Monday morningl''

The global economic recession has hit South Africa hard; the government’s latest labour force survey said 484,000 jobs had been lost in the last six months, and unemployment stood at 24.5 percent for the period July to September 2009, up from 23.2 percent during the same period in 2008.

Van der Westhuizen told IRIN that the situation had been tense since 13 November, when Zimbabweans had been involved in a violent spat in an informal tavern. "Following that incident, some 68 Zimbabweans" had fled the area, fearing a resurgence of xenophobic violence.

In May 2008 a tide of xenophobic violence erupted in Johannesburg and quickly spread through most parts of the country, killing more than 60 people and displacing about 100,000 others.

"The same area was affected in 2008," van der Westhuizen said. The 68 Zimbabweans took refuge in government buildings in De Doorns during Saturday and Sunday.

The police, accompanied by local government and disaster management officials, held a meeting with the informal settlement residents on the evening of 16 November to calm the situation.

"But the residents threatened to prevent the Zimbabweans from going to work on 17 November [Monday morning]," van der Westhuizen told IRIN.

Police had to fire rubber bullets to disperse the residents, who attacked some more shacks in Stofland, forcing the Zimbabweans to flee. "Fortunately, none of the Zimbabweans were harmed and they all moved out with their personal belongings voluntarily," the police superintendent said.

The local authorities are trying to erect a tent shelter and provide portable toilets for the displaced people on the town’s sports ground. Van der Westhuizen told IRIN:

"We are making interim arrangements to keep them here for a week until we try and mediate with the local residents to get the Zimbabweans integrated back into the community."