Anti-Immigrant Tensions Rise Again In South Africa Anti-foreigner violence is grabbing the headlines again in South Africa. Immigrants have fled their homes and have left the country, just as they did during the anti-immigrant violence of 2008, which left more than 60 people dead.
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Anti-Immigrant Tensions Rise Again In South Africa

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Anti-Immigrant Tensions Rise Again In South Africa

Anti-Immigrant Tensions Rise Again In South Africa

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Violence is in the headlines once again in South Africa, after what seemed to be a break during the World Cup. And much of it has been directed at foreigners. Immigrants have fled their homes and have fled the country, just as they did during the anti-immigrant violence of 2008, which left more than 60 people dead.

Kyle G. Brown reports.

Mr. PAUL VERRYN (Bishop): Come back, because you're going to need food later.

Unidentified Woman: Okay.

Mr. VERRYN: All right? And this little one, all right?

KYLE G. BROWN: Bishop Paul Verryn welcomes a Zimbabwean woman and her baby -two of the many African immigrants to come to the Methodist mission in central Johannesburg for help.

Mr. VERRYN: Well, people have said that South Africans have said to them, they must go back to where they come from. They don't belong over here. Some people have been threatened, some people have been assaulted. But the general -sort of feeling from many people is that they must get out of here.

BROWN: During the deadly wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa two years ago, the church became a refuge for hundreds of immigrants, mostly from Zimbabwe. And though on a smaller scale, Verryn says it's happening again. Just weeks ago, South Africans were cheering Ghana as the continent's last hope during the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Now that the games are over, the euphoria has cooled, and some of the resentment of foreigners has turned violent.

Ms. TINASHAY NEGOMO: They did come to us, like in the night. Eight guys - they come into our place. And they (unintelligible) not true South Africans, we Zimbabweans.

BROWN: Tinashay Negomo fled to South Africa five years ago, to escape economic turmoil and violence at home. She says she was asleep at her home in Soweto when the locals came and warned the house would be burnt down if she didn't come out. Then, she says, one of the men grabbed hold of her.

Ms. NEGOMO: And the other one was holding the plank, you see. Then they beat me with the plank on my back - and the other one in my head.

BROWN: Have you reported this to police?

Ms. NEGOMO: I was scared. I was scared.

BROWN: Negomo and her housemates are among a number of foreigners who have been threatened or attacked in recent weeks. The South African government's response has been ambiguous. It recently re-established the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Xenophobia. But its head and minister of police, Nathi Mthethwa, describes the latest violence as criminal, and not based on race or ethnicity.

Mr. NATHI MTHETHWA (Minister of Police, South Africa): We have said this, there is crime in South Africa, and we have to live in crime. There's nothing systematic - we just - as xenophobia, because even those incidents you are talking about, people have been looting (unintelligible) and police are arresting them. They will continue arrest them and they will - smoke them.

Mr. LOREN LANDAU (Forced Migration Studies Program, University of the Witwatersrand): Well, I mean, I think that what you're seeing is extraordinary fear among a lot of people. Hundreds, if not thousands, have left the country -or certainly, left their homes.

BROWN: Loren Landau is with the Forced Migration Studies program at University of the Witwatersrand. He says more must be done to address the root causes of the widespread resentment of African immigrants. Unemployment rates of more than 25 percent and the unkept, post-apartheid promises of better housing and services, are wearing down the patience of the poor.

Mr. LANDAU: It's natural - not necessarily forgivable - but certainly natural to look for scapegoats, to look for people who are from outside, who you can blame for the failings of government.

BROWN: In Alexandra, a sprawling township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, a group of men is playing a board game outside in the cold South African winter air. It was here, in 2008, that the wave of anti-immigrant violence began, eventually taking the lives of more than 60 people and displacing thousands. Questions about African immigrants, even now, fracture the friendly mood.

Mr. VICTOR MBATHA: The people from the outside of this country, we don't need them because they are taking our jobs.

BROWN: Victor Mbatha, like everyone else around the table, is unemployed. The others nod in agreement, that foreigners must go.

Mr. MBATHA: We want them to go back to their country because this is our country.

BROWN: But not everyone agrees. Mbali Gamede and Nolwazi Mabaso are washing the dishes and preparing dinner. The teenage girls are dismayed by the anti-foreign sentiment of their neighbors.

Ms. MBALI GAMEDE: It's not right to do this because we are the same. They are our brothers and sisters. Why do you have to do this to them?

BROWN: Under apartheid, South Africans sought refuge in neighboring states. Nolwazi says they should offer the same hospitality to those now in need.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle G. Brown in Johannesburg.

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