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Will foreign workers flocking to World Cup face xenophobic attacks?

With less than a week before the opening of the South Africa World Cup, an influx of foreigners in search of work has raised ethnic tensions. Some fear a repeat of the 2008 xenophobic riots that killed 67 foreign migrants.

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Tiyani Tsakisi of Diepsloot, which is located nine miles northwest of Johannesburg, says he hates foreigners for stealing South Africa's beautiful girls and women. "The problem with foreigners is that they pay huge sums of money to our girls and women resulting in them refusing to fall in love with us," Mr. Tsakisi says.

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Tshidiso Mokoena of Vereeniging says foreigners bring in drugs such as cocaine, mandrax, and marijuana, and commit robbery. "I have no problem living with foreigners provided they respect our elders. Now my main problem staying with our African brothers and sisters is that they impregnate our girls and dump them," says Mokeona.

Threats are real: officer

Duncan Breen, advocacy officer for the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), says such threats are widespread, "real," and "they have to be prevented at all cost.”

The 2008 attacks were not an isolated incident, Mr. Breen says, citing at least 10 incidents of race violence that have occurred in 2010 in the Johannesburg area.

"Now, a week from the opening match of the World Cup, threats are mounting of further mass xenophobic violence once the event is over,” he says.

Xenophobic attacks against foreigners are based on “misplaced” and “primitive” stereotypes, says Marc Gbaffou, an Ivoirian national and president of African Diaspora Forum, an advocacy group.

“Prevention does not rest with ourselves," says Mr. Gbaffou. "Until the South African government engages in an education and political campaign against xenophobia, and fully deconstructs the scape-goating process when confronted to residents' frustrations, we believe the threat remains very high."

Zimbabweans feel they have no choice

Many South Africans are of the mind-set that violence against foreigners will force them home, says Luke Zunga of the Global Zimbabwe Forum, which has 7 million members living in worldwide diaspora. That feeling is grossly misplaced, he argues.

"Zimbabweans are not in South Africa by choice; many never dreamed of coming to South Africa,” says Mr. Zunga. “They are forced out of their country by politics, which led to economic meltdown.”

Local township councilors are under pressure for their failure to deliver basic services such as water, electricity, and trash pickup, so they often fan the xenophobic threats as a diversion, Zunga says. "Basically xenophobia is caused by the [competition] for jobs and space, particularly in poor areas. We appeal to South Africans not to do this, but let’s work together," he says.

Mohamad Radi Gruer, an Ethiopian shopkeeper who arrived just two months ago to run a shop in Diepsloot, says he’s praying that nothing comes of the threats.

“People are telling me, ‘All foreigners will go out,’ ” he says, standing in a neatly arranged shop full of corn meal, oil, and other staples. He was robbed a month ago, and he knows a Somali shopkeeper who was also robbed and then shot by the perpetrators.

“If I was alone, I could just run away,” says Mr. Gruer. “But I’m married. My wife is seven months pregnant. Maybe she gets her baby in July, during World Cup. So now, I’m just praying to God. Praying to God.”

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