The South African government has announced the arrest of more than 300 people accused of partaking in violence against immigrants and refugees in the country, after mob attacks have left seven dead and prompted at least two other African countries to repatriate their citizens, fearing for their safety.
The BBC reports that the South African Ministry of Home Affairs estimates the number of arrests at over 300 related to these attacks, most of which have been mob beatings or machete attacks. While the BBC reports six have died in the past two weeks, Canada’s Globe and Mail notes in a more recent article that the death toll has risen to seven.
The attacks began to occur with alarming frequency following a public remark by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, in which he said, “We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries.” Zwelithini has since claimed his comments were not intended to trigger violence. As South Africa’s The Times reports, Zwelithini called for peace at an event in Moses Mabhida Stadium this weekend attended by thousands. “I called you today to be shields of this nation. … I’m saying let’s arm for peace‚ now I’m instigating you to mobilise for peace,” he stated, adding, “As your king I say calm down.”
There is little indication that those remarks, along with efforts by President Jacob Zuma, have done much to stem the violence. BBC notes that much of the destruction targets businesses run by immigrants, whom locals accuse of driving up the nation’s unemployment rate. Five of South Africa’s 50 million residents are believed to be migrants, mostly from neighboring African nations like Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique.
While the razing of businesses is a major concern for South African immigrant neighborhoods, attacks with the intention of killing immigrants are also a direct threat. Most prominent among these recently is the death of 35-year-old Emmanuel Sithole of Mozambique, whose death by wrench was captured by the cameras of The Sunday Times. The newspaper published images of Sithole’s attack and final moments, requesting that readers identify the killers in plain sight. Police subsequently arrested three men believed to have been involved in the murder, including the man wielding the weapon in the photographs.
The Globe and Mail notes that at least 5,000 foreigners have fled South Africa in response to the wave of violence. The United Nations refugee agency notes that “many are sheltering in makeshift camps, while others have boarded buses home to Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.” Malawi has announced a program to repatriate all its citizens in the coming days, with Nigeria following suit. The Nigerian government announced that losses by Nigerian citizens in this latest wave of violence include “looted shops, burnt shops, two burnt mechanic workshops, 11 burnt cars and two stolen cars, among others.” In addition to the official response from the Nigerian government, Islamist terror group Boko Haram has vowed retribution killings against South Africans in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and other Boko Haram-inhabited nations.
The Globe and Mail report that South African President Jacob Zuma has issued public statements promising to bring perpetrators to justice. “We will find you and you will be dealt with to the full might of the law,” his office stated on Sunday, in the official announcement of the arrests of 307 individuals allegedly involved in the attacks.
Zuma visited a foreigners’ camp on Sunday to deliver remarks and speak to immigrants housed at the camp, in which he not only promised to stop the violence but justified those who are choosing to leave South Africa temporarily. “Those who want to go home, when the violence stops, you are welcome to return,” he told them.