Zimbabweans flee South Africa as xenophobic violence flares

Thousands of Zimbabweans are fleeing back home after two days of xenophobic violence in Johannesburg, South Africa, reminding many of the 2008 anti-foreigner riots that killed more than 60 people displaced more than 200,000.

Jerome Delay/AP
South African soldiers patrol Diepsloot township, north of Johannesburg, South Africa, July 9. Thousands of Zimbabweans are fleeing back home after two days of xenophobic violence in Johannesburg.

Soldiers and police patrolled the troubled Kya Sands settlement in Johannesburg, South Africa, Wednesday after arriving Tuesday evening to quell xenophobic violence against African migrants.

"The situation has returned to normal. The police visibility has calmed the situation," said Oswald Reddy, a provincial police commissioner.

Police have declined to link the violence in Kya Sands – in which at least 16 people, mostly foreigners, were attacked over the past two days after a robbery touched off anger between area residents and immigrants now living in their midst – to xenophobia. Officials don't want to provoke the kind of antiforeigner riots that killed more than 60 and displaced more than 200,000 in 2008.

STORY: After South Africa's World Cup, xenophobic threats on the rise

But immigrants across South Africa are living on edge after months of rumors that they would be targeted as soon as the country finished hosting its first-ever World Cup, and many aren't taking any chances this time. Thousands of Zimbabweans are fleeing South Africa, deciding that life in Robert Mugabe's country is better than risking death in South Africa.

"Zimbabweans are crossing the Botswana-Zimbabwe border post [Plumtree] back home in huge numbers," says Tafanana Dzirutwe, police spokesman for the Matabeleland South region of Zimbabwe. "They tell us that they are escaping xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Remember, they were once attacked in 2008, and this time around they can't wait to be attacked or killed."

He says the Zimbabwean government views the new wave of xenophobic attacks "very seriously."

"We are taking no chances on these fresh xenophobic attacks on our people. We hope our South African police counterparts will contain the sad situation," says Mr. Dzirutwe, adding that women and children were prevalent among the estimated 2,000 Zimbabwean that crossed through just one border post on Tuesday. "They [Zimbabweans] are coming back home with all their belongings."


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