JOHANNESBURG: Fear that gripped Johannesburg as locals looted and burnt foreign-owned businesses is seemingly subsiding as the police took control of the city by Wednesday afternoon.
It became widely evident that the Johannesburg Metro Police (JMP) had deployed officers at strategic points after human deaths, widespread looting and burning of properties in greater Johannesburg metro.
Between Sunday and Wednesday morning, social media reports had actually created fear in people’s minds. As widely accessible sources of information, social media was awash with videos depicting the prevailing violence.
Videos as old as 10 years were fast in circulation purely exaggerating this week’s attacks and sending chill down the spines of many. Whilst the social media is a good source of information, it proved that it can be a misleading source of fear. The heavy presence of the South African Police Service (SAPS) around the busy Johannesburg city is a sign that they are not taking heavy criticism on them lying down.
The SAPS and JMP have been criticised for taking long to respond to violence across the metro of Johannesburg and its surroundings where there has been widespread looting and destruction of properties including for those owned by the South Africans.
South African Police minister, Bheki Cele has also been heavily criticised for seemingly condoning xenophobic attacks as the SAPS have been reportedly slow in rescuing violence-ridden Johannesburg.
“We will contain the violence,” Cele said this weekend, leaving South Africans worried about the negative publicity their country was receiving in the process.
Johannesburg CBD, Hillbrow, Kempton Park, Alexandra, Turfontein and others were rocked by looting, violence and rendered almost inaccessible.
By Wednesday afternoon, media reports suggested that at least 10 people had died as a result of general looting and burning of properties. There were points where there was intense exchange of fire whilst other foreigners were trapped in their burning business premises. South Africans demonstrated that they were an angry nation as foreigners endured the brutality of locals using long knives and stones to kill.
Infuriated by the delayed actions of the security agencies, the locals claimed they chose to take the law into their own hands in their endeavour to prove that they can.
The South Africans, some of whom who before the 1994 democratic elections lived in exile across Africa and abroad during the apartheid era, demonstrated their appetite for hate crimes, violence and destruction this week as they did a few years ago. It all started last week Saturday late afternoon with reports filtering in from Soweto, that residents would raid businesses owned by foreigners.
My former classmate at Shashe River Secondary School, which commemorates its 50th anniversary on September 13 this year, Octavia Mbatha who lives in Soweto,
True to their character, South Africans did not disappoint as they lived up to their destructive reputation. “Be careful,” Mbatha had warned and added: “South Africans are violent and don’t care who says what.”
As if that was not enough, Saturday afternoon as the host, Drew Forrest took me through the shopping complex in the neighbourhood of Yeoville, a crowded area, a thug invaded our car as we reversed. The incident confirmed Mbatha’s warning.Trucks driven by foreigners were blocked and burnt as well as businesses where people broke into shops and looted various goods in what purely amounted to acts of criminality.
South Africa, which has an estimated unemployment rate of about 29% which translates to 6.6 million unemployed people, has witnessed tension between locals and foreigners. Locals are crying foul that foreigners have taken their jobs in the trucking industry and other sectors of the economy. What is apparent though is that shops that have been looted and burnt had employed a good number of locals.
The other contention by locals is that foreigners, especially those from Nigeria, tend to sell drugs to the locals which they blame upon the security agents to have failed to contain the illegal drugs trade. Targeted foreigners include nationals from Somalia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Zambia, Rwanda, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Zimbabweans and others.
It is estimated that about 2.5 million migrants live in South Africa with some having created a number of jobs in a country plagued by rising unemployment.South African State President, Cyril Ramaphosa early this week speaking from the World Economic Forum (WEF) breakfast meeting in Cape Town condemned the wildcat violence. In his appeal for calm, Ramaphosa described South Africa as the home for all and described violence and xenophobic attacks as barbaric.
“People have to live side by side with foreign nationalities and South Africa must be a country where everyone feels safe,” Ramaphosa appealed, addressing the media.
He further promised reinforcement of security forces to quell violence without specifying how.
The xenophobic attacks have contaminated relations as this week heads of States of Rwanda, DRC and Malawi pulled out from the ongoing WEF for Africa in solidarity with migrants from their countries who have been abused in the xenophobic attacks.The Zambian senior national football team, Chipolopolo has also cancelled a friendly encounter with Bafana Bafana this week.