Aid groups struggled Tuesday to feed and shelter thousands of immigrants chased from their homes by attacks on foreigners, while critics said the government must shoulder some of the blame for the eruption of violence.
There was more fighting and unconfirmed reports of new deaths Tuesday, but the violence did not appear as widespread as in recent days in the shantytowns around Johannesburg. The official death toll remained at 22.
Many of the attacks have been made by gangs of South Africans armed with rocks, knives and guns. A tire set on fire with gasoline was put around the neck of one victim.
Abel Massingue, a Mozambican who has lived in South Africa for 25 years, sheltered with other migrants in a littered field next to a police station. He was afraid and in pain after being beaten with hammers Saturday night when he tried to help a friend escape a mob in Germiston, east of Johannesburg.
"It's terrible here," Massingue said. "We have young children here. Some people in here, they have guns, they have weapons."
Zimbabweans, Malawians, Mozambicans and others from neighboring countries have been the main targets in the wave of xenophobia. They came to South Africa, the region's economic hub, looking for work and ended up sharing squatter camps with poor — and increasingly frustrated — South Africans.
Although South Africa is more prosperous than its neighbors, it suffers high unemployment and widespread housing problems, especially among the black majority.
Cabinet ministers and politicians visited some of the worst affected areas Tuesday as the government scrambled to repair its international image.
Security Minister Charles Nqakula vowed to increase the number of police patrols to ward off mob attacks, deploy specialized police units and provide alternative housing for the displaced.
"We are going hard on the situation," Nqakula said in Germiston, where a large group of mostly Mozambicans has gathered seeking protection.
The respected Institute for Race Relations put the blame for the violence firmly on the government, saying ineffective policies had "created a tinder box of unmet expectations which exploded."
The institute cited a long list of factors: a failure to clamp down on violent crime; corruption, inadequate staffing and low morale among the police; a lack of real job-creating policies; poor delivery of government services; and porous border controls.
It also said heavy-handed police action against immigrants, as evidenced by a raid this year on a Johannesburg church housing hundreds of Zimbabweans, led to the impression among poor South Africans that foreigners are "fair game."
The institute criticized President Thabo Mbeki for what it called "wholly inappropriate and incompetent" diplomacy with Zimbabwe's autocratic leader, Robert Mugabe. That provided "a lifeline to the ailing Zimbabwe regime" and led to rising numbers of Zimbabweans fleeing their nation's economic collapse and political repression, the institute said.
Preparing for a long-term crisis
David Stephens, acting secretary-general of the South African Red Cross Society, said he was preparing for a long-term crisis, working with international and local groups and government officials to coordinate aid efforts.
"It won't go away tomorrow," he said.
Stephens said unofficial estimates of the number of displaced range as high as 13,000, but it was difficult to pin down because many people have been on the move since fleeing their homes. They look for work or search for relatives during the day and head to makeshift shelters at night.
Stephens said in some cases, aid workers at shelter sites would plan to feed a couple of hundred people based on daytime counts, only to run out of food in the evening when hundreds more showed up.
He said the displaced need tents. Women and children are squeezed into rooms at police stations and other shelters, but many men must sleep in the open on cool Southern Hemisphere autumn nights.
Allaudin Sayed of Gift of the Givers, a South African relief group, said local people were donating diapers, toys, buckets for washing and other items. The Salvation Army set up collection centers and was calling for blankets and soap.
The international aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said humanitarian groups were "being stretched to the limit."
MSF, which has mobile teams treating the injured, said a lack of security was keeping aid workers out of some areas.