Mercury: 3 reports on xenephobic violence in Jo’burg

‘They’re killing shangaans’
Fiery death as mobs on rampage

May 19, 2008 Edition 1

Beauregard Tromp

From a distance, it looked like a pile of bedding that had been set alight. Then a head peered through the top of the fiery mattress.

Incredibly, arms flailed weakly from the inferno. Not a scream. Not a whisper. Not a word.

“He’s still alive!”

Within reach of the orange flames lay two pieces of bloodied concrete poles. All along the main road leading into Reiger Park, smouldering debris from the weekend-long war that had raged in the township forced even the police Nyalas to use the pavement.

Police had withdrawn to the main entrance into Reiger Park, a mob 100m down taunting them, waving knobkieries and even a tattered umbrella.

Three people had already been killed by the marauding mob.

Earlier, police had tried to negotiate with residents, many of whom had slurred speech and reeked of alcohol. A safe path should be cleared for those wanting to leave the war zone, police pleaded.

As police sporadically fired at crowds pelting rubble, some people took the opportunity to flee the area. Most took only their bedding and some kitchen utensils.

“They’ve got three Shangaans there. They’re killing them,” said one woman, desperation etched on her face.

Another and then another resident coming from the direction of the traffic circle carried the news. “They are killing the Shangaans. It’s happening now.”

Police poured out of the Nyala armoured personnel carrier, waving shotguns in arcs at the emptiness where moments earlier hundreds had gathered.

The smell from the human pyre stung the nostrils.

The burning man reached out to no one in particular. A circle of police officers and journalists stared incredulousy. “Get the fire extinguisher,” they shouted to those still inside the police vehicle.

One officer braved the flames, pulling at the burning blanket wrapped around the man’s torso. Revealed were pieces of wood with blackened nails lying over his body and supporting his chest.

Still, the silent man reached out, his movements even slower than they were before.

“The fire extinguisher,” came ever more urgent shouts.

Another officer pulled at another flaming striped blanket. Beyond the smoke and flames crackling away, not a sound nor soul stirred.

The flaming man rocked slowly from side to side.

In moments, which seemed an eternity, a burly policeman emerged from the Nyala, the fire extinguisher immediately enveloping the area in a cloud of white smoke.

Less than 10m away lay another bloodied and battered body.

“He’s still alive! Call for the ambulance,” someone shouted.

Metres from the ghastly scene neighbours now hung over their fences, whispering softly. One plump woman in a knitted cap and overall couldn’t contain her laughter, pointing to the barbarous scene and relating the events to locals.

Fearful crowd takes refuge in Jo’burg church

May 19, 2008 Edition 3

Gill Gifford

A pile of grey cement bricks outside the Central Methodist Church in downtown Joburg was the defence arsenal of illegal immigrants who sought refuge inside the building while sporadic attacks and violence flared around the city.

Herbert Nedi, a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), yesterday escorted a man bleeding from a deep gash in his forehead and urged foreigners huddled outside the church to go inside as they waited for doctors to arrive.

The dazed and injured man indicated that he was a South African, but struggled to communicate clearly as he was deaf and mute. He wrote his name down as “Tarro”.

“This is the second man we have to treat. There was another here earlier. He had been stabbed in the back of the head and beaten across his back,” said Nedi.

About 1 000 Zimbabweans are taking refuge at the church, according to reports.

Methodist Bishop Paul Verryn told SABC radio: “We consider the situation is getting so serious that the police can no longer control it.”

Throughout the day, metro cops and specialist police units battled to control the outbreaks of violence around the city.

“We are getting reports and trying to attend to everything, but it seems to be widespread, and it will take some time for us to collect all the information together,” provincial police spokesperson Superintendent Lungelo Dlamini said.

Just after midday, streets and narrow roads in Hillbrow, Berea and Jeppestown were littered with debris and shattered glass.

A group of smartly dressed foreigners gathered outside a church in downtown Fox Street, all clutching Bibles. “They came in and attacked us while we were praying,” said a visibly shaken man.

“They robbed the shop across the road and then said they will be coming back tonight. They are using this as an excuse to steal.”

As police escorted a small group of worshippers into a car with darkened windows to take them out of the area, the preacher commented: “Our lives are not secure anymore.”

A policeman told them: “We’re a small unit with a small number of people. We cannot escort all of you to different areas.”

Sirens echoed and gunshots reverberated for most of the day as police managed to calm one set of outbreaks, only to find new groups forming.

Cops, mobs battle on many fronts
We are back in hell, says policeman as rocks rain on him

May 19, 2008 Edition 3

Beauregard Tromp, Gill Gifford, Baldwin Ndaba, Alex Eliseev, Shaun Smillie and Botho Molosankwe

The Star reported from several of the battle zones.

Jeppestown and Joburg city centre

Police moved in early yesterday morning after the violence hit the Joburg CBD. While the police concentrated on the xenophobic attacks and looting of various business, a cash-in-transit attack was launched in Selby about 10.20am.

The attackers dumped the bullet-riddled car, with no money in it, in Browning Street, Jeppestown.

To quell the violence, police had to land a helicopter in the middle of the street in Jeppestown to disperse the crowd. The same helicopter was used to search for the cash-in-transit robbery suspects.

Some foreigners living in Cleveland and Jeppestown took refuge at the Central Methodist Church to join other immigrants who have been living in the shelter for years under the supervision of Bishop Paul Verryn.

Outside the church, immigrants stood guard. Two of them had sustained gash wounds when they were attacked near Park station.

Foreigners went to Smal Street and collected bricks to defend themselves.

“This is the first time that I feel my life is in danger,” said Soul Zvobgo, a Zimbabwean. “In the past, I used to experience police raids. Police never killed anyone.

“Now this time, people are being killed, he said, adding “We are going to defend ourselves.

“How can they burn people to ashes? How can they burn a child to ashes,” he asked.

Cleveland, Jo’burg

Five people were killed in the attacks at the weekend – two of them burnt to death – and 50 were taken to hospital with stab and bullet wounds.

Hundreds left their homes and possessions behind and took refuge at the Cleveland police station.

Many of the shops on Jules Street owned by foreigners were looted. About 15 shops were broken into and about 10 cars were burnt in the turmoil that started on Saturday night, police spokesperson Cheryl Engelbrecht said.

One person lucky enough to escape unharmed was 30-year-old Alex Sithole, but his friend was burnt alive by a mob as he watched.

When Sithole went to investigate a noise, he found that a neighbour had run straight into a mob.

“They beat him up, threw him back into his room, locked him inside and set it alight,” the Mozambican said.

“I just heard him screaming in the burning room, but I had to get out of there because I was scared.”

Before killing him, the mob had also set alight a car and looted his house.

Makausi squatter camp, Primrose, Germiston

“We’re back to hell. I’m sommer going to fire live rounds and if they gooi a petrol bomb again, I’m going kill them,” yelled a metro policeman as he came on duty at sunset and was hit on a leg by a rock thrown at him from behind a shack.

Throughout the day yesterday, foreigners lined the Pretoria Road dual carriageway, watching as mobs tore down their shacks and burnt them.

The police stayed on the perimeter, regularly firing into the camp as people within the area taunted them and threw rocks and petrol bombs.

“We don’t know the real body count because we can’t go in there. It’s too dangerous,” said one metro official.

“But we know there have been at least five so far.”

Thokoza, Alberton

Tshivenda- and Shangaan-speaking people from SA were also caught up in the xenophobic attacks.

One of them is 2-year-old Resana Masingi, who had to flee with her mother following an alleged tribal purge by isiZulu-speaking warlords.

“I came to visit a friend, Khensani. Then on Saturday morning, while we were sleeping, I heard people knocking on different shacks,” said Tsakane Mathebula.

The mob ordered Shangaans and Vendas to leave.

According to Mathebula, the mob said “all we want here are Zulus. So I put Resana on my back and fled the shack.”


“If you don’t want to die, move!” shouted the angry mob as they began flinging stones at the media across Beyers Naude Avenue.

Police spent the day fighting off gangs of residents under a rain of bricks.

There were not enough officers, but those present walked the streets and fired rubber bullets at the mobs, which had shot live ammunition at them.

The trouble began as early as 7am, apparently after a man was stoned at a sportsfield.

From there the mobs gathered and smashed shacks, burnt shops and rubbish, and attacked locals.

Waves of clashes erupted along Beyers Naude, which the police blocked off.

As the day progressed, the residents drank alcohol and grew more violent and uncontrollable.

At around 3pm, the township was once more engulfed in violence.

Reiger Park, Boksburg

Police fought running battles with residents in Reiger Park as residents sought to save their belongings from smouldering fires.

Projectiles rained on a group of about 50 heavily armed police officers as they made their way down the main entrance.

Residents said at least four people had been killed by marauding groups intent on driving foreigners out of the township.

The smoking remains of shacks lay all along the tar road as firefighters sought to extinguish the flames.

Late yesterday afternoon, police in two Nyalas dispersed the crowd. As the mob fled, bricks, stones and bottles rained down on police from the shacks, and officers responded by firing rubber bullets.

There was evidence of widespread looting.

“The Maputo boys say they’re coming back for revenge. They killed my brother Mangesi yesterday and today they burnt down my shack,” said Lydia Mpula.

# The vast majority of the people fleeing the violence to whom The Star spoke were South Africans.