The South African government will set up dedicated courts to try perpetrators of xenophobic violence that has afflicted the country in recent weeks, claiming at least seven lives. Many of the 307 people arrested so far are expected to be put through the fast-track courts.
“We want to be seen to be doing all we can as quickly as we can to put a stop to this violence,” said Phumla Williams, the South African government’s spokesman.
The country’s Times newspaper published front page photographs yesterday (Sunday) of a Mozambican street vendor being beaten and stabbed to death in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, close to the glittering business district of Sandton.
Emmanuel Sithole was pictured lying in a pile of rubbish and holding up his hands to try to defend himself as three attackers kicked him in the head and rained down blows with a monkey wrench, a spade and knives.
Mr Sithole was taken to hospital but died of his wounds, the paper reported.
Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, the chairman of the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure, which brings together police and security services, said it would study the photographs to bring Mr Sithole’s attackers to justice.
“We call upon the residents of Alexandra to assist us,” he said.
There were pockets of violence over the weekend in Johannesburg and in the eastern gold mining belt, but police said it was quiet in the port city of Durban, where the attacks started two weeks ago.
President Jacob Zuma cancelled a state visit to Indonesia on Saturday to deal with the surge in violence, and pleaded with foreigners to stay in South Africa. He visited a transit camp in Chatsworth, Durban, which houses 500 people who fled their homes following threats of violence, and promised his government would “fix the situation”.
“It won’t take long,” he said, to some boos from the crowd. “We are doing all that we can to protect lives. That’s why we have the police all over the place, if needs be we will bring out the army.”
Malusi Gigaba, the home affairs minister, said that those on the fringes of attacks should alert the police or be implicated in the crimes. “We want to issue a stern warning to those who lend themselves to acts of public violence. We will find you, and you will be dealt with to the full might of the law,” he added.
Up to 10 per cent of South Africa’s population is made up of immigrants from countries including Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and Malawi. There have been outbreaks of violence against such immigrants before, driven by the perception that they are responsible for an increase in crime and are taking scarce jobs. South Africa’s economy grew by just 1.5 per cent last year and unemployment stands at around 25 per cent, rising to more than 50 per cent among young people.
The latest violence has been blamed on a speech last month by the Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, in which he described foreigners in the country as “lice” and urged them to pack their bags and return home. Mr Zwelithini has since said his words were misinterpreted. Today, he is expected to host a meeting of senior tribal leaders and urge an end to the violence.