JOHANNESBURG, May 21 – Mob attacks against foreigners in South Africa spread to the east coast city of Durban Wednesday as elite police units in Johannesburg managed to rein in the violence that has so far left 24 dead in the city.
While Johannesburg enjoyed its quietest night after more than a week of assaults, looting and rapes, an outbreak of violence in Durban raised fears that unrest could spread to the rest of the country.
Superintendent Phindile Radebe, police spokeswoman in the eastern KwaZulu Natal province, said that a Nigerian-owned business had been one of the targets of a mob in Durban’s impoverished suburb of Umbilo.
"A mob of plus/minus 200 were gathering on the streets carrying bottles and knobkerries (wooden clubs) busy attacking people on the streets," she told AFP.
"They attacked one of the taverns there believed to be owned by Nigerians."
The Durban-based Mercury newspaper reported Umbilo police spokesman Captain John Lazarus as saying the mob had ordered the foreigners to "leave KwaZulu Natal", the country’s most populous province.
Radebe said the situation was being monitored by police, who were still investigating the motive behind the attack.
According to the United Nations, some 13,000 people have been made homeless since the xenophobic violence first broke out in Johannesburg 10 days ago when rampaging mobs began chasing foreigners out of slums and torching their shacks.
The foreigners, most of whom have fled the economic meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabweans, have been blamed for the sky-high rates of crime in South Africa as well as for depriving locals of jobs.
The unofficial unemployment rate in South Africa is believed to be about 40 percent.
Human Rights Commission chairman Jodi Kollapen told AFP that the authorities would face a difficult task in re-integrating immigrants who had been driven from their homes.
"There is no way you can re-integrate people into communities if the community remains hostile to them, and those who were evicted continue to feel insecure and intimidated about going back.
"They (locals) will have achieved the objective of driving foreigners out of the country."
There have been widespread calls for the army to be sent into townships to help police, but a specialised police unit mobilised to deal with public disorder in Johannesburg seemed to have helped quell the unrest.
"They were deployed and were all in place yesterday morning so that is very encouraging, it is very encouraging that there is some semblance of normality again," said national police spokeswoman Sally de Beer.
Johannesburg police spokesman Govindsamy Mariemuthoo told AFP the volatile situation had cooled, with only a few incidents overnight that police quickly brought under control.
Meanwhile the damage to the country’s reputation from the violence — reminiscent of that seen in townships during the whites-only apartheid era — was highlighted as the rand currency dropped by 1.7 percent against the dollar and 2.6 percent against the euro on Tuesday.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told reporters that the problems in South Africa were all the more surprising given the country’s struggle with apartheid.
"South Africa was the last African country to gain its independence. Along its bumpy road to independence, South Africans were scattered all over the continent, including Kenya.
"We gave them tremendous and admirable hospitality … The last country anybody would imagine would engage in xenophobia is South Africa."
After Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk expressed fears about the negative impact of the violence on efforts to attract visitors from Africa, football’s world governing body FIFA also spoke out.
"We are obviously concerned about this issue, but hope the World Cup and its unifying power will help to overcome the divisions," FIFA said in a statement published by South Africa media.
South Africa is expecting up to half a million tourists to visit the country when it hosts the football World Cup in 2010.