South Africa vows crackdown on xenophobic attacks after five die

A Zulu resident of the Jeppe Men’s Hostel shouts encouragement while others brandish knobkerries in the Johannesburg CBD, after South Africa’s financial capital was hit by a new wave of anti-foreigner violence. (AFP)
Updated 03 September 2019

South Africa vows crackdown on xenophobic attacks after five die

  • Hordes of people — some armed with axes and machetes — gathered in Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD) for a third day of unrest directed against foreigners
  • Sporadic violence against foreign-owned stores and enterprises has a long history in South Africa, where many locals blame immigrants for high unemployment

JOHANNESBURG: Five people have been killed in xenophobic violence in South Africa, police said on Tuesday, as President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to clamp down on the attacks and the African Union and Nigeria sounded their alarm.
Hordes of people — some armed with axes and machetes — gathered in Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD) for a third day of unrest directed against foreigners, hours after mobs burned and looted shops in the township of Alexandra, prompting police to fire rubber bullets to disperse them.
Five deaths — most of them South Africans — have been reported, police said, adding that 189 people had been arrested.
In a video address diffused on Twitter, Ramaphosa said attacks on businesses run by “foreign nationals is something totally unacceptable, something that we cannot allow to happen in South Africa.”
“I want it to stop immediately,” said Ramaphosa, adding that the violence had “no justification.”
Sporadic violence against foreign-owned stores and enterprises has a long history in South Africa, where many locals blame immigrants for high unemployment, particularly in manual labor.
The country is a major destination for economic migrants from neighboring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Others come from much further afield, including South Asia and Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
But this week’s assaults seem to have been on a greater scale than in the past, although the full details remain unknown.
“They burned everything,” Bangladeshi shop owner Kamrul Hasan, 27, told AFP in Alexandra, adding that his shop gets attacked every three to six months.
“All my money is gone. If the (South African) government pays for my plane ticket, I will go back to Bangladesh,” he said.
Alexandra, one of the poorest urban areas in South Africa, is situated just five kilometers (three miles) from Sandton, the city’s gleaming business and shopping district.
More than 90 people were arrested on Monday in connection with the violence and looting of shops in Johannesburg and surrounding areas, the government said.
Similar incidents occurred in the capital Pretoria on Monday, when local media reported shacks and shops burning in the Marabastad — a central business area largely populated by economic migrants.
Nigeria summoned its South African ambassador to express “displeasure over the treatment of her citizens” and dispatched a special envoy, who is expected to arrive later this week.
Several Nigerians used social media to call for a boycott of South African companies, including telecoms provider MTN, satellite television service DSTV and retailer Shoprite.
Separately, African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned the violence “in the strongest terms” but said he was encouraged “by arrests already made by the South African authorities.”
The attacks on foreign stores began a day after South African truckers started a nationwide strike to protest against the employment of foreign drivers.
On Monday, they blocked roads and torched foreign-driven vehicles in parts of the country.
At least another 20 people were arrested in connection with those attacks in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Deputy President David Mabuza condemned all attacks on foreign nationals.
“We are a nation founded on the values of ubuntu (humanity) as espoused by our founding father, President Nelson Mandela... we should always resist the temptation of being overwhelmed by hatred,” he said at a meeting with ministers in Cape Town on Tuesday.
The violence erupted ahead of a meeting of the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, where hundreds of political and business leaders will gather for three days from Wednesday.
David Makhura, the premier of Johannesburg’s Gauteng province, said rioting was not a solution.
“This issue can be dealt with without resorting to xenophobia,” Makhura told reporters. “There is no country that does not have foreign nationals.”
Opposition parties pinned the blame on the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
“South Africans are scared and lack real hope for the future,” said Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s official opposition. “We are seeing economic and social collapse in action.”
Ramaphosa took office after elections in May that he won on a platform of reviving the country’s economy and boost employment.
But in July, the national statistics office said joblessness had reached 29 percent — the highest since the country’s quarterly labor force survey was introduced 11 years earlier.


France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

Updated 14 July 2020

France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

PARIS: Nurses in white coats replaced uniformed soldiers as stars of France’s Bastille Day ceremonies Tuesday as the usual grandiose military parade was recalibrated to honor medics who died fighting COVID-19, supermarket cashiers, postal workers and other heroes of the pandemic.
With tears in their eyes or smiles on their faces, medical workers stood silently as lengthy applause rang out over the Place de la Concorde in central Paris from President Emmanuel Macron, the head of the World Health Organization and 2,000 other guests. A military choir sang the Marseillaise national anthem, and troops unfurled an enormous French tricolor flag across the plaza.
For some, the national homage is not nearly enough to make up for the equipment and staff shortages that plagued public hospitals as the virus raced across France, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Activists sent a banner above the ceremony tied to balloons reading: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”
This year’s commemoration also paid homage to former President Charles de Gaulle, 80 years after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
But the battle against the virus was the main focus of the official event in central Paris, as Macron sought to highlight France’s successes in combating its worst crisis since World War II. Mirage and Rafale fighter jets painted the sky with blue-white-and-red smoke, and were joined by helicopters that had transported COVID-19 patients in distress.
Macron called the ceremony “the symbol of the commitment of an entire nation” and “the symbol of our resilience.”
The guests included nurses, doctors, supermarket and nursing home workers, mask makers, lab technicians, undertakers and others who kept France going during its strict nationwide lockdown. Families of medical workers who died with the virus also had a place in the stands.
“Exceptionally, this year, our armies ... will cede the primary place to the women and men in hospital coats who fought” the virus and who remain “ramparts in the crisis,” Macron said.
It was a Bastille Day unlike any other, as medics in jeans or sandals strolled onto the plaza for the climax of the ceremony, and the lengthy military parade was truncated into a smaller affair closed to the public to prevent new virus infections.
Masks were ubiquitous. Troops sported them as they got in formation, took them off for the ceremony, then put them on again when it was over. Macron made a point of donning his before speaking to WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Across town from the Place de la Concorde, protesters plan to highlight France’s failures during the pandemic. Among those expected to demonstrate are medical workers who decried mask shortages and cost cuts that left one of the world’s best health care systems ill-prepared for the galloping spread of the virus.
The destination of their protest march wasn’t chosen by chance: They’re set to head to Bastille plaza, the former home of a royal prison that rebels stormed on July 14, 1789, symbolically marking the beginning of the French Revolution.
Tensions already erupted Monday night on the eve of the holiday, as troublemakers set off firecrackers and set a bus, a gym and dozens of vehicles on fire in the Paris region, according to the fire service.
Tuesday’s annual fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower will be largely restricted to television viewers only, since City Hall is closing off the heart of Paris, including embankments of the Seine and other neighborhoods where crowds usually gather on Bastille Day.
France has one of the world’s highest virus death tolls, and scientists are warning of a potential resurgence as people abandon social distancing practices, hold dance parties and head off on summer vacations.