Anti-Foreigner Protest Turns Violent in South Africa's Capital

  • At least 136 people arrested, acting police chief says
  • President Zuma calls for calm, tolerance toward immigrants

South African police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group of several hundred people who took to the streets of the capital, Pretoria, Friday to protest against the presence of undocumented Nigerians, Pakistanis and Zimbabweans.

“At some point a water canon was used, tear gas was used and non-lethal weapons to try and get the situation under control,” acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane told reporters in Pretoria. “Those who are also inciting violence will also face criminal prosecution. At this stage the situation remains under control.”

Some of the protesters stoned cars, used rocks to block off streets and prevented people from going to work. At least 136 people had been arrested, Phahlane said.

Residents of the Pretoria suburbs of Mamelodi and Atteridgeville who staged the protest say illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from locals and are responsible for rising levels of crime. Violence and looting of foreign-owed shops began last week after police raided suspected drug-dens in the eastern Johannesburg suburb of Rosettenville, which is home to a large immigrant community.

Several millions African migrants live and work in South Africa, the continent’s most industrialized economy, and compete for jobs, business opportunities and scarce housing in a country where more than a quarter of the workforce is unemployed.

Anti-immigrant attacks in 2008 claimed about 60 lives and forced about 50,000 to flee their homes. Violence flared against in 2015 and seven people died at the hands of mobs wielding machetes and sticks before the army and police managed to restore calm. Groups representing immigrant communities said they feared the recent upsurge in anti-foreigner sentiment could spark a recurrence of the xenophobic attacks.

President Jacob Zuma appealed for calm and condemned the violence.

“There are real concerns by South Africans in many areas about serious crime that is destabilizing communities,” he said in an e-mailed statement on Friday. “Many citizens of other countries living in South Africa are law-abiding and contribute to the economy of the country positively. It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers.”

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