Immigrants Flee South Africa After Xenophobic Attacks

Immigrants Flee South Africa After Xenophobic Attacks

3:30pm Apr 21, 2015

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In South Africa, hundreds of immigrants have left the country and are leaving the country in an exodus in the face of xenophobic attacks so brutal seven people have died. One powerful leader there, the Zulu king, has been accused of stoking the violence against the migrants. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has the story.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The violence against mainly African immigrants began late last month in the port city of Durban and has spread to Johannesburg, the commercial hub. With unemployment high in post-apartheid South Africa, some local people accuse immigrants from neighboring countries and elsewhere on the continent of stealing their jobs, their homes and their women. Foreign-owned shops have also been attacked and looted. South African Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has called for calm.

MALUSI GIGABA: Political, religious, traditional, community and other leaders in South Africa must desist from making remarks which are reckless and could result in loss of human life.

QUIST-ARCTON: King Goodwill Zwelithini is the titular head of about 9 million Zulus, the single biggest ethnic group in South Africa. He has been blamed for sparking the attacks with reported comments last month that foreigners were like lice and should pack their bags and go home. Zwelithini denied inciting violence and says his words were taken out of context.


QUIST-ARCTON: It took the Zulu king almost a month to call for the anti-foreigner attacks to stop. He told a traditional imbizo - a mass rally - yesterday at a stadium in Durban that xenophobia was vile, and he offered condolences to the families of those who have died.



QUIST-ARCTON: Another prominent Zulu leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the unofficial prime minister of the Zulu nation, reminded the crowd of South Africa's historical links to other Africans.


BUTHELEZI: Our people are taking the very neighbors who gave us refuge during our own liberation struggle, and we are ashamed.

QUIST-ARCTON: Several thousand people assembled to listen, but there were boos when foreigners were mentioned. South African commentator Audrey Brown was at the rally. She says King Zwelithini's words are not enough to calm the deep anger and sense of abandonment among many impoverished South Africans, which she sees as the underlying reason for the attacks.

AUDREY BROWN: Everybody says that these comments will not be enough to reverse the violence simply because there are reasons why people are angry, frustrated, bitter. So words are not enough, and the king acknowledged that, too. The government, I think, in South Africa has reacted, you know, with a great deal more force than we saw them do in the past.

QUIST-ARCTON: Some of South Africa's neighbors, including Malawi and Zimbabwe, have begun evacuating their nationals, with other African countries threatening to do the same. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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