Johannesburg: A wave of violence against foreigners in South Africa has forced 13,000 people to flee their homes, the UN said today, as President Thabo Mbeki pleaded for an end to a “shameful” show of xenophobia.
As calls grew for the army to be sent in to quell the worst unrest since the end of apartheid, the scale of the damage was becoming apparent, both to the victims and the so-called Rainbow Nation’s new reputation for racial tolerance.
As police revealed the number of arrests had now risen to around 300, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration gave the first figures on the numbers who have been displaced.
“Thirteen thousand people had to flee their homes to seek refuge in churches and parish centres, and most didn’t take anything with them,” IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told AFP at its Geneva headquarters.
As well as the numbers made homeless, 23 are now believed to have died since violence first flared in the central Johannesburg township of Alexandra last week and then spread in other impoverished areas of the country’s economic hub.
While the overall situation appeared to have calmed down slightly, tension was palpable in many townships where mobs armed with axes and machetes could still be seen roaming the streets.
Calling for a halt to “these shameful and criminal acts”, Mbeki said South Africa was bound together with other Africans and was not “an island separate from the rest of the continent”.