Violence Against Foreigners Rocks South Africa
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
South Africa has called in the army to end days of attacks on immigrant shantytowns on the edge of Johannesburg. More than 40 people have been killed, thousands more have been driven from their homes. The immigrants have come to South Africa over the years from neighboring countries looking for work. And a great surge of them have come from neighboring Zimbabwe. They wound up living in the squatter camps along with impoverished and increasingly frustrated South Africans who launched the anti-immigrant attacks.
Frans Cronje is with the South African Institute of Race Relations. He joined us this morning from Johannesburg.
Mr. FRANS CRONJE (South African Institute of Race Relations): Yes, good morning.
MONTAGNE: Tell us what is the current situation in the squatter camps. Has the violence subsided now that the army's been ordered in?
Mr. CRONJE: Just a bit of background. Ten days ago, the attacks started in the Alexandra area north of Johannesburg. The attacks spread very rapidly in what I'd describe as a ring of fire around the city of Johannesburg. And it became less clear that it was solely a matter of anti-immigrant violence.
A number of South Africans have also been targeted, mainly those from minority ethnic groups. Yesterday, the government agreed to order infantry battalions into Johannesburg to reinforce police efforts. Those forces are still en route to Johannesburg.
MONTAGNE: And there are also rumors that some of the violence is to do with both criminal gangs and also competitors; that is, South African business owners who are upset, angry, jealous that outsiders have started businesses.
Mr. CRONJE: There certainly is a criminal element that is taking advantage of the chaos to loot and steal. We've also seen in previous xenophobic attacks that there was a certain economic angle, where foreign African traders and businessmen were targeted. And indeed, in some of the Johannesburg violence we've seen Asian and Indian traders being targeted as well. It's unclear who's behind it as it continues into its 11 or 12 day now.
MONTAGNE: This is, though, a long term problem for South Africa. For instance, there are millions of Zimbabweans in South Africa who could rightfully be called refugees...
Mr. CRONJE: Well, the South African government continues to insist that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe. So we fight with policy problems. And when we've been asked to explain why there is this level of violence in South Africa over the last ten days, we point them to policy failures on the part of government to adequately address the demands of South Africans who have - who were promised a better life for all in 1994 during our democratic transition.
MONTAGNE: But the sense is that these immigrants are there - some of them are entrepreneurs doing well and adding to the economy; some are Zimbabweans who are as desperate or more so than the poorest of South Africans - what do you see ahead on this?
Mr. CRONJE: Well, that question I've been asked, I'd say, 50 times. The long term solution is to improve the socioeconomic standing of poor and mainly black South Africans. The short term response needs to be a law enforcement response to get control of chaotic situations. And of grave concern to us is that the police have been unable to get a handle on the violence. This violence may, of its own, dissipate in the end, but I would not be surprised if there were flare-ups in other parts of the country at any point in our short to medium term future.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CRONJE: It's a great pleasure. Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Frans Cronje is deputy CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations speaking to us from Johannesburg.