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Five Killed As Protests in Johannesburg Turn Violent on Both Sides

By Danielle Dorsey

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Recent protests have turned deadly in South Africa, with local police reporting that five people have been killed in what appear to be xenophobic attacks. Al Jazeera reports that most of the people killed are believed to have been South African. 

Riots erupted in several major South African cities as demonstrators attempted to force foreigners out, believing that they are the cause for high unemployment rates among locals. South Africa is a popular destination for economic migrants from other parts of the continent, with many moving from neighboring Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe in search of work.

Last week in Pretoria, hundreds of protesters set buildings ablaze and looted mostly foreign-owned businesses, while police responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds. 

The chaos reached Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) on Sunday when an old building caught fire and collapsed, killing at least three people. More than 91 people were arrested on Monday after demonstrators lit cars on fire and looted foreigner-owned shops. 

On Tuesday, 189 people were arrested in the nearby township of Alexandra after similar protests broke out across the city. Protests have also been reported in Soweto and Richard’s Bay. 

David Tembe, Chief of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD), confirmed that police were able to disperse the crowds in the suburb of Jeppestown, but that the unrest had spread to other areas as of Monday morning. Tembe urged motorists, especially those traveling on the M2 highway, to exercise extreme caution and to avoid the area surrounding Maritzburg Steet entirely.

Political leaders and human rights organizations have condemned the riots, with South African president Cyril Ramaphosa vowing to clamp down on what he described as “acts of wanton violence.” 

Targeted violence against foreigners has been on the rise in the greater Johannesburg area for several years. The recent outbreak of violence follows a wave of protests in the transportation industry that is linked to anti-foreigner sentiment. Truck drivers in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) started a nationwide strike on Sunday to protest the employment of foreign drivers. KZN police claim that at least 20 people had been arrested “in connection with incidents related to protests within the trucking industry.”

Sipho Zungu, chairman of the All Truck Drivers Foundation, insisted that his group had “nothing to do with the strike”, but defended their cause, saying that the “People of South Africa are hungry, they are sitting at home.. while companies in South Africa are employing foreigners … [because] it’s cheap labor. We are hungry and angry.”

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