Foreign shop owner set alight in South Africa


Nine arrested in Johannesburg suburb as xenophobic attacks on foreigners sweep Rainbow Nation.

Police in South Africa say nine people have been arrested after a foreigner was set alight outside Johannesburg, the latest in a string of xenophobic attacks in the country.

Lieutenant Kay Makhubela, a spokesperson for the South African Police Services in Gauteng told Al Jazeera on Friday that calm had since returned to Doornkop district inside Soweto, after a mob reportedly doused the foreigner’s store with petrol and set it alight the previous night.

“Petrol was poured over the store that the victim was in, and he caught fire,” Makhubela said.

The man, whose name and nationality is yet to be confirmed, survived Thursday’s attack but suffered severe injuries and was admitted to a local hospital. The specific circumstances around the attack remains unclear, though police said the attackers wanted the foreigner shut his store and leave.

In another incident in the same area on Thursday, police said they had arrested four foreigners after a confrontation with locals who tried to loot their store. Police said the foreign business owners had fired warning shots when they were reportedly approached by locals to close their stores. No locals were arrested. 

Disturbing trend 

The real issue, is that xenophobia goes against the idea of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and that South Africa is progressive and they wouldn’t want to hurt that narrative

Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, Researcher at ISS

This week’s attacks on foreigners is the latest in a disturbing trend wherein foreign nationals living and working in the country are targeted.

Foreign-owned shops in several parts of Gauteng were looted in January following the shooting of Siphiwe Mahori, by a Somali shop-owner. The fourteen-year-old teenager was allegedly part of a group trying to rob the store when the Somali opened fire, killing the boy.

The killing prompted outrage in Soweto and turned into an excuse to loot foreign owned stores.

Foreign nationals, specifically African migrants, have endured a series of attacks across South Africa over the past decade.

Critics say that recent attacks continue to demonstrate the negative attitudes held by a number of South Africans toward foreign nationals. It is also alleged that the government’s refusal to treat the violence as ‘a hate crime’, has only perpetuated the problem.

“There has to be public acknowledgement of the problem,” Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, a researcher at Governance, Crime and Justice Division, at the Institute of Security Studies, in Pretoria said.   

Tamukamoyo told Al Jazeera the South African government refused to acknowledge the problem “because admitting it is not in their interests and would mean recognising that state-building projects have not succeeded.”
“The real issue, is that xenophobia goes against the idea of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and that South Africa is progressive …they wouldn’t want to hurt that narrative,” Tamukamoyo said.

Clashes elsewhere
Areas around Johanesburg were not the only districts to be hit by xenophobia this week.

Foreign-owned shop owners in the Marikana settlement in Phillipi outside Cape Town were forced to close their businesses on Tuesday, when groups of young South Africans began looting their stores.

In 2008, more than 60 people were killed in a series of attacks on foreign nationals across the country. At the time, a Mozambican national was burnt alive on the streets of township. Even as the image of his harrowing death was published widely, drawing international condemnation, no one was ever charged with the crime.

Two years ago, a Somali man died after being beaten, pelted with stones and dragged through the streets of Port Elizabeth. The attack was captured on a mobile device and shared on social media, prompting international outrage.


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