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Mob violence against immigrants in South Africa

May 19, 2008 |  1:45 pm

The Times reports some bad news from South Africa. Immigrants there, particularly those hailing from Zimbabwe, have been targets of attacks by South Africans (whose grievances sound familiar, though of course they're being expressed more disastrously): 

[H]undreds of Zimbabweans and other foreigners fled their homes in Alexandra, a teeming crime-ridden township, on Sunday and Monday to escape xenophobic attacks. Some hid in the nearby bush or in police compounds.

"They were saying, 'Go back to Zimbabwe, we don't want to see you here, you're taking our jobs,'" [immigrant Isaac] Moyo said Tuesday. "They said, 'Go back to [Zimbabwean President Robert] Mugabe.' They took everything, saying, 'You didn't get this from Mugabe; this is our property.' "...

[S]ome township dwellers who believe that Mugabe is a cruel leader say it is because of something innately cruel in Zimbabwe's society. They tend to blame South Africa's high crime rate on the influx of Zimbabweans.

As the article notes, 100 foreigners were injured and at least two people were killed. Zimbabweans trying to escape economic woes and violence in their country have entered South Africa by the hundreds of thousands. Many of them work for a few dollars a day, and are adding to the burdens of a country which already suffers 40% unemployment.

The mass migration was already creating problems for South African President Thabo Mbeke, who has been attempting to influence Mugabe with a "quiet diplomacy" rather than denouncing outright his human rights abuses and political power grabbing. The violence may make his position more precarious.

For more on the politics between the two countries, and a debate over whether Mbeke is right to be "quiet" on Mugabe, see New Republic assistant editor James Kirchick's Op-Ed, "South Africa's unseemly alliance" and Philip L. Christenson's Blowback response, "Defending Thabo Mbeke."

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