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Immigrant attacks slow in South Africa

Anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa have slowed, police said Monday, though destitute foreigners continued to journey home to neighboring countries.
Image: Mozambican emigrants return to their homes
Immigrants from Mozambique look out from the train as they return to their homes, running away from the xenophobic violence in South Africa.Pedro Sa Da Bandeira / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

Anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa have slowed, police said Monday, though destitute foreigners continued to journey home to neighboring countries.

"The violence has subsided," Safety and Security Minister Charles Ngakula told reporters. "The situation is under control."

Police reported isolated incidents of looting and shacks being set ablaze during the weekend.

Five Mozambican men were assaulted by a group of South Africans on Sunday in Durban, an eastern port city, police spokeswoman Phindile Radebe said.

Another Mozambican man was shot in the hand north of Durban Saturday as he drove his family toward Mozambique, police said. It was unclear if that was related to the wave of xenophobic attacks that have gripped South Africa for more than two weeks.

Dozens killed, thousands forced from home
Ngakula said 56 people have been killed and 30,000 forced from their homes, including 25,000 in the country's wealthiest province of Gauteng, which has been hardest hit by violence. The death toll rose from 50 on Sunday, possibly to include injured people who died in the hospital.

Thousands of foreigners remain in makeshift camps after fleeing stick- and knife-wielding mobs of South Africans who accuse immigrants of taking jobs and blame them for crime.

The violence in Johannesburg has centered on squatter camps and notoriously bleak dormitories built during the apartheid era for single men who were allowed to work in the cities, but not to bring their families.

The attacks spread to Cape Town on Friday and more than 10,000 people spent the weekend in churches and community centers. City authorities also set up six special sites as dedicated camps for the displaced.

More than 1,300 people were being housed at a camping site near Cape Point, one of South Africa's most famous tourist attractions. Hundreds more, mainly Somalis, gathered outside the gates as disaster management teams inside erected giant tents and installed basic lavatories. A large contingent of armed police tried to quell tensions among the crowd.

Many blamed the South African government for doing too little too late.

Malim Hajim, a Somali, fled his brother's store when it was looted. Even though Somalia has no functioning government and is wracked by violence, Hajim said he hoped authorities would help him and his countrymen return home.

"I don't want to stay here anymore. It's finished," he said.

Taking the bus home
Mozambique and Malawi have given assistance to their nationals, including transport back home.

The first bus containing 120 Malawian evacuees arrived in Malawi Sunday night, and another was expected Monday, the government said. Mozambique reported more than 16,000 of its citizens had returned from South Africa by Saturday.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe — whose country's political and economic crisis has chased as many as 3 million citizens across the border into South Africa — promised free land to Zimbabweans who chose to return home.

Meanwhile, regional Red Cross director Francoise le Goff said Zambia is making contingency plans to receive up to 25,000 Zimbabweans who may flee South Africa.

Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils said that while the situation is under control, "that doesn't mean that there might not be some spontaneous eruptions somewhere in this huge country. But we are mobilized everywhere."

If attacks occur, Kasrils said the government will respond decisively to preserve law and order.

Lawmakers visit affected areas
Also Monday, lawmakers visited some of the worst affected areas around Johannesburg.

"Whatever our political differences, what unites us all is our outright condemnation for what has been happening in recent past," said Andries Nel, deputy chief whip of the governing African National Congress.

The legislators also acknowledged that anger at the government for not doing enough to improve life for the poor may also have played a role in the attacks.

Mayor Duma Nkosi of Gauteng's Ekurhuleni municipality said criminals also were to blame for exploiting the situation.

Nkosi also said communities were concerned violence could erupt again if people forced out in the attacks were to return.