Police fired rubber bullets and made arrests today amid outbursts of anti-foreigner violence in and around Johannesburg, and said the death toll had reached 22.
Foreigners – many of them Zimbabweans who had fled economic collapse and political violence in their homeland – were being driven from shacks in squatter camps today.
Men with clubs and sticks patrolled in groups along the road near one camp, apparently South Africans guarding against any foreigners trying to return.
South Africans are struggling to find jobs and buy food as prices rise, and they appear to be targeting foreigners they see as competing with them for scarce resources.
Police spokesman Govindsamy Mariemuthoo said that, since the violence broke out last week, 22 people had been killed – beaten, burned or slashed. Mr Mariemuthoo said more than 200 people had been arrested on charges including murder, rape and robbery.
“We’re not talking about xenophobia, we’re talking about criminality,” Mr Mariemuthoo said.
He said police reservists and officers from other regions were being called in to help.
The South African Red Cross and other aid groups appealed for funds to care for hundreds displaced by the violence. Foreigners fled to police stations, churches and community halls. South Africans shocked by the violence were dropping by the impromptu shelters with food, clothing, blankets and other donations.
Gina Themba nursed her two-week-old daughter on the floor of a room at a police station in downtown Johannesburg Monday. She said neighbours among whom she had lived for three years broke into her house the night before and demanded she leave. She said she did not understand why.
Such scenes were repeated in pockets across the Johannesburg region, with the poorest of the poor turning on one another. Lisa Letsoso, an 18-year-old South African living in the Ramaphosa squatter camp near the eastern Johannesburg suburb of Reiger Park, wondered where it would end.
“The South African are fighting the foreigners. Now the foreigners are fighting back. Everyone is suffering,” Ms Letsoso said.