JOHANNESBURG (AP) - Hundreds of immigrants boarded crowded buses for Mozambique and other African nations yesterday, passing bags and even babies through the windows in a rush to flee violent attacks against outsiders that have left 42 dead.
But many other immigrants - drawn to South Africa by hopes of a better life - say they have nowhere to run despite violence that has forced more than 25,000 from their homes.
South Africa’s poorest have increasingly come to blame migrants from Zimbabwe and other African countries for domestic problems such as crime and unemployment. The frustration boiled over two weeks ago, when mobs tore through the slums of Johannesburg, leaving foreign victims burned alive, stabbed, shot or beaten to death.
In a bid to tamp down the violence, South Africa put soldiers on the streets of its commercial hub yesterday - the first time since the end of apartheid that the military has been deployed in Johannesburg.
The milestone has dredged up unhappy memories of South Africa’s racist legacy. Speaking to reporters yesterday, police minister Charles Nqakula recalled the era when the white government used troops to quell anti-apartheid demonstrations.
“One of the cries during that time was that we did not want the army in our townships,” he said, adding its role now would be limited to supporting police.
Before dawn, infantry battalion soldiers set up a cordon as police made early morning swoops on three downtown Johannesburg hostels whose residents purportedly were involved in inciting violence.
The violence has started to subside, but foreigners in South Africa remain wary.
The number sheltering at police stations, churches and other makeshift camps for those displaced by the violence swelled to 25,000, and officials were setting up tent cities for them, a sign the crisis was not expected to ease soon.
Going home is not a viable alternative for many Zimbabweans, who number about 3 million in South Africa.
Zimbabwe’s economy has collapsed, with inflation so high that staples are out of reach for many. And its longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, is accused of using violence and intimidation to hold onto power.
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, meanwhile, toured some of the worst-affected areas to offer his solace.
By Elaine Donnelly
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