South Africa is finally deploying its army to end anti-immigrant violence

Immigrants fear for their lives.
Immigrants fear for their lives.
Image: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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After a recent wave of anti-immigrant attacks that left at least seven dead, South Africa’s defense minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced in a live broadcast on Tuesday that the country would be deploying troops to Alexandra, a Johannesburg township and to some areas of the coastal city of Durban.

The violence has mainly been targeted at immigrants from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, said the aid group Doctors without Borders. Thousands have fled their homes in Durban, finding refuge in temporary camps in the area. Many have left the country altogether. Shopkeepers in Johannesburg have closed their businesses, fearing for safety.

“We are deploying because it is an emergency. The army will support police officers, who will take the lead in containing the violence,” the minister announced in Alexandra.

She said that a Zimbabwean couple had been shot in the area on Monday night, but had survived. The shantytown had witnessed turmoil in recent days, since a photographer captured on camera a Mozambican man being stabbed to death by four men.

The violence could have wider consequences.

South African officials are concerned that the violence may hurt the country’s vibrant tourism industry and other industry sectors. Authorities warned that South African businesses around the continent can be targeted, as one company repatriated its workers from Mozambique fearing for their safety. Other African governments are condemning the attacks, and Nigerian officials said that if the violence does not cease, South African businesses in the country would be shut down.

The country’s image of “the rainbow nation,” a diverse, peaceful haven that emerged from apartheid is also suffering. The phrase was coined by Nobel laureate archbishop Desmond Tutu who said in a statement that the “fabric of the nation was splitting at the seams.”

“Our rainbow nation that so filled the world with hope is being reduced to a grubby shadow of itself more likely to make the news for gross displays of callousness than for the glory that defined our transition to democracy under Nelson Mandela.”