5 September 2019
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, pictured, told officials and
business leaders yesterday that he was committed to quelling attacks on
foreigners that have threatened to cast a cloud over an economic forum
aimed at boosting intra-African trade.
Police have arrested almost 300 people and confirmed several deaths after
riots in Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria in recent days, when roving
groups attacked shops mainly owned by migrants from the rest of Africa.
It is unclear what ignited the latest round of violence, but analysts say
contributing factors include high unemployment and frustration with
limited economic opportunities.
The unrest has kindled memories of previous deadly attacks on foreigners
and strained diplomatic relations with Africa’s other economic powerhouse
South African businesses MTN and Shoprite closed stores in Nigeria
yesterday after their facilities in the country came under attack.
Other African countries from Ghana to Ethiopia and regional bloc African
Union have called on Ramaphosa to take action.
Artists and citizens from across the continent voiced their anger on
social media, with some threatening retaliation.
“Taking action against people from other nations is not justified and
should never be allowed in our beautiful country. … We need to quell
those incidents of unrest,” Ramaphosa told an event on the sidelines of
the World Economic Forum (Wef)’s Africa three-day summit which started
“South Africa must be a country where everyone feels safe, including women
and foreign nationals,” Ramaphosa said, also condemning recent incidents
where women had been killed.
Hundreds of mainly female students protesting about violence against women
tried to storm the conference centre in Cape Town where the Wef conference
was being held, but they were restrained by a heavy police presence.
Police spokesperson for Gauteng province, Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, said
they were “experiencing a dramatic decline in public violence and looting”
as the number of people arrested on suspicion of involvement in the
attacks on foreigners had increased to 289 since Sunday.
Rwanda President Paul Kagame and Malawi’s Peter Mutharika pulled out of
the conference at the last minute, prompting speculation in South African
media that the no-shows were linked to the attacks on foreigners.
But Wef spokesperson Oliver Cann said Kagame and Mutharika had informed
conference organisers that they could not attend by Saturday, before the
attacks had started.
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