JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Worried about their safety, hundreds of African immigrants headed out of South Africa in buses on Monday following deadly attacks on foreign-owned shops.
South Africa’s anti-immigrant attacks, in which seven people have been killed this month, have angered many across the continent. South African diplomats in at least two other African countries reported threats of reprisal attacks because of the violence at home.
The outbreak of violence in South Africa against immigrants has tarnished the reputation of a country that has one of the biggest economies on the continent and has been a destination for people seeking opportunity and an escape from turbulence elsewhere in Africa. South Africa was also dubbed the “rainbow nation” for its relatively peaceful transition to democracy after the end of white racist rule in 1994.
Now the government is struggling to contain negative fallout from attacks on immigrants in some areas of Durban and Johannesburg that killed seven people since the end of March. Activists in some African countries organized protests and called for a boycott of South African goods, as South Africa is a powerful trading partner in the region.
Kenmare Resources, a Dublin-based company, said it temporarily repatriated its 62 South African workers at a titanium mine in Mozambique after “reciprocal unrest” there that stemmed from the South African violence. The mine’s total workforce is nearly 1,400.
The South African government should be “less reactive and more proactive” in dealing with tensions over immigrants and the country should “be a bit more humble” about its aspirations as a continental leader, said Prof. Chris Landsberg, an African diplomacy and foreign policy expert at the University of Johannesburg.
“We are in denial,” Landsberg said.
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, an influential figure among the Zulu ethnic group in South Africa, condemned the attacks in a speech Monday at a Durban sports stadium. His remarks followed allegations that he provoked some violence with reported comments in which he said foreigners should go home.
President Jacob Zuma postponed a ceremony, scheduled for next week, in which the country’s highest official honor is bestowed on South Africans and foreigners who have contributed to South Africa, his office said. The event will be postponed so South Africa can mourn the victims of the anti-immigrant violence, including three South Africans and four foreigners, it said.
In Malawi, Information Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa said six buses carrying 390 Malawians from Durban were heading to Malawi and five more buses carrying Malawians were expected to leave the city on Tuesday. About 3,200 Malawians sought refuge in temporary camps, he said.
Those killed in anti-immigrant unrest included two Malawians, according to Malawi’s government.
About 400 Zimbabweans were also heading home from South Africa, said Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa. They traveled in six buses and a truck, Moyo said, according to Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper.
Louis Lulu Mnguni, South Africa’s top diplomat in Nigeria, said his Lagos mission has warned South African citizens in Nigeria “to exercise vigilance and limit their movements” following threats of reprisal attacks.
Similarly, security was increased at the South African High Commission in Accra, Ghana after telephoned threats, said Lulama Xingwana, the high commissioner.
The attacks in South Africa stem from a perception that immigrants, many from other African countries, are taking jobs at the expense of South Africans in a country with high unemployment. Many people have entered South Africa illegally, though the government has said a large number of immigrants are working legally and contributing to economic development.
The violence recalls similar unrest in South Africa in 2008 in which 60 people died. In January this year, four people died during looting of foreign-owned shops in areas of Johannesburg.
The violence is particularly unfortunate because other African nations provided shelter and other aid to South African activists during the battle against white minority rule, said Xingwana, the South African diplomat in Ghana.
“The young people have forgotten the contribution of African countries to South Africa’s fight against apartheid and need to be educated on this,” she said.