Foreigners in Pretoria nervously watch wave of xenophobia

City of Pretoria skyline. Picture Thinkstock

City of Pretoria skyline. Picture Thinkstock

 Foreign nationals in Pretoria were keeping a nervous watch on Wednesday as xenophobic unrest flared in KwaZulu-Natal and shop owners in Johannesburg shuttered their businesses for fear it could spread.

Malawian hairdresser Lincoln Chitembwe, who runs a salon in Sunnyside, on the eastern outskirsts of Pretoria said he had received anonymous messages on Whatsapp warning foreigners to leave the capital.

He showed ANA a message that urged “brothers from Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Mozambique to unite and fight back”.

But Chitembwe said he felt defenceless and was putting his trust in the South African to maintain order in Pretoria.

“I have no other defence, I cannot fight. I know the police will act to protect everyone’s life if we are targeted,” said the father of two.

Ndumiso Mlilo, a Zimbabwean journalist based in Johannesburg, disagreed, saying he believed the South African government could do more to counter the violence.

“We have previously seen the South African government being heavy-handed when dealing with service delivery protesters but they don’t do the same with xenophobic attacks,” said Mlilo.

“These people will loot shops owned by local citizens when they finish foreign shops. I wonder what message is being sent to the world, particularly foreign investors.”

Attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops started in Isipingo outside Durban a week ago and spread to KwaMashu, Umlazi and Chatsworth.

A number of criminal cases have been opened at various police stations in the Umlazi and Chatsworth areas. The cases included public violence, business robberies, murder, attempted murder, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and malicious damage to property.

In Johannesburg, metro police spokesman Wayne Minnaar said foreign nationals were closing their shops for fear that the attacks would spread.

“What we have observed is that foreign nationals are closing down their stores. We have not received any reports of violence or attacks so far,” he said. but added that metro police were monitoring the situation closely.

Pretoria central police spokeswoman Sergeant Ann Poortman said there had been no reports of xenophobic attacks across the city but police were on alert and ready to act.

“We haven’t been alerted to any incidents. If the situation changes, we will be communicating accordingly,” said Poortman.

“If the attacks happen here, we are to act accordingly and will be closely guided by the authorities.”

The ANC on Wednesday deplored the attacks and extended the party’s condolences to the families of the victims.

Four people have been killed in the past fortnight and hundreds have fled their homes and businesses.

“These unpardonable attacks against them are a shameful assault on our very humanity, ” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.

“As South Africans, the far vast majority of whom are deeply rooted in values of humanity, solidarity and brotherhood, we are forced to once again hang our heads in shame in the face of these misguided and misplaced assaults. ”

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