South African troops deployed Tuesday evening as part of a new government effort to stop deadly anti-immigrant violence. Their first target: the Johannesburg suburb of Jeppestown, where xenophobic violence broke out on Friday. South African police raided a Jeppestown hostel Tuesday while troops secured the perimeter. Earlier, Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced the plan to deploy an undisclosed number of troops to areas where police are spread too thin while trying to curb deadly attacks against immigrants.
“This intervention is not an indictment on the police. … We are coming in because they need that support,” she said after visiting Johannesburg’s Alexandra township, one area where mobs have attacked immigrants from other African nations and looted their shops — ostensibly based on the belief that immigrants are taking South Africans’ jobs. Seven people have been killed in recent violence against poorer immigrants, many from South Africa’s neighbors.
Much of this month’s violence happened in the port city of Durban, where at least two foreigners and three South Africans were killed after mobs with machetes attacked immigrant shops. Thousands of people took temporary shelter at refugee centers or police stations as a result, according to aid group Gift of the Givers. Similar violence happened late last week in Johannesburg, where immigrant-owned shops were looted or destroyed.
The attacks came as residents accused immigrants of taking their jobs and committing crimes. The unemployment rate in South Africa is 25%, according to government figures. The United Nations said the attacks began in March after a labor dispute between citizens and foreign workers.