21 May 2008

South Africa: Riots - 'I Was Paid to Kill Foreigners'

Abuja — A Soweto hostel resident has told the police that he was paid to carry out the attacks on foreign nationals in the township, Sowetan, a South African newspaper, reported yesterday.

The xenophobic attacks, which started last week, have led to the death of no fewer than 23 persons.

The Federal Government of Nigeria, however, said yesterday that no Nigerian was killed in the riots.

Sowetan reported yesterday that the self-confessed hired killer was arrested with six others who looted houses belonging to those they believed were foreign nationals in White City, Jabavu, on Sunday night.

It reported: "This was the first indication that a third force could have a hand in fanning hatred for foreigners and inflaming xenophobic attacks in Gauteng.

"Police were not revealing much about the man's claims, saying that he was being questioned. They could not say who paid the man and how much he received."

A police spokesman, Captain Mpande Khoza, confirmed to Sowetan that the man had made the "startling claims" although he did not give further details, saying the man was still being questioned.

"He had told the police that he was paid to carry the attacks. We do not know at this stage who hired him. We are still questioning them," the spokesman told Sowetan.

In Abuja, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that no Nigerian was killed in the riots. However, shops and properties belonging to Nigerians were said to have been destroyed.

THISDAY, quoting its reporter in South Africa, had reported on Monday that many Nigerians were killed in the xenophobic riots which gripped the former apartheid country.

However, THISDAY's reporter in South Africa will verify claims on Nigerian casualty today.

Spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr. Ayo Olukanni, told THISDAY in a telephone conversation last night that the ministry was in contact with the Nigerian Acting Consular General in Johannesburg, Mr. Yakubu Ahmed, who had said that he held a meeting with the Nigerian community in South Africa and that no Nigerian had died in the riots.

Olukanni said that the Foreign Affairs Ministry had written to the South African authorities requesting for protection of Nigerians and Nigerian Missions in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

"Ahmed held a meeting with about 100 members of the Nigeria community in Hillbrow Area, Johanesburg, and discussed issues of ensuring protection and safety of Nigerians in the wake of these attacks on foreigners. And with respect to the Consulate, request has been made to the South African Diplomatic Protection Unit for additional protection for the Mission and the two Missions are working together to ensure that things are under control," he said.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website reported yesterday that South African security ministers were discussing using the army to help stop the attacks on foreigners.

The deployment of troops, which has been demanded by human rights groups and the opposition, could not be ruled out, a top ruling party official was quoted as saying.

Over 13,000 have reportedly fled their homes in the wave of attacks which President Thabo Mbeki has condemned as "shameful and criminal" violence.

Mobs of South Africans have been roaming townships, looking for foreigners, many of whom have sought refuge in police stations, churches and community halls, according to the BBC report.

There have also been reports of attacks on South Africans from other parts of the country.

Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula promised that no illegal migrants would be deported during the attacks.

South Africa's police and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party intensified efforts yesterday to quell the violence.

Police have struggled for over a week to end the violent attacks on foreigners who are accused by many in South Africa's poor townships of stealing jobs and fuelling a wave of violent crime.

Several foreigners have been burnt to death, women have been raped and scores of shops and homes looted.

More than 200 people have been arrested since the violence erupted on May 11 in Alexandra township, Reuters reported yesterday.

The ANC said the situation was coming under control after it sent officials into townships to appeal for an end to the attacks.

Police also increased their deployment to trouble spots. "The situation is being managed. Many ANC people are on the ground and things are quietening down," an ANC spokeswoman told a radio station.

The unrest has increased political instability at a time of electricity shortages, rising inflation and disaffection among the poor over President Thabo Mbeki's pro-business policies.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) has described the attacks as "appalling".

"We join the rest of South Africa in deploring this violence," the organisation said in a statement made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday in Johannesburg.

"Whatever are the underlying causes this senseless violence is not a solution," said Mr. Achmat Dangor, NMF's Chief Executive Officer, who signed the statement.

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