South Africa is doing some soul-searching after a looting spree targetted foreign-owned businesses in Soweto township, sparking a debate over whether xenophobia is becoming a major issue. Grace Pascoe reports.
There's been looting, violence and even murder in Johannesburg's Soweto township in the past two weeks. And there's an added dimension to these crimes. Many of the targets are foreign-owned shops. Associate Professor Ingrid Palmeree is from the African Centre for Migration and Society. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INGRID PALMEREE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AND DIRECTOR OF THE AFRICAN CENTER FOR MIGRATION AND SOCIETY, WITS UNIVERSITY SAYING: "This is not just random acts of criminality. It is in fact a targeted attack on foreigners and I think it's quite important because there's been a lot of debate in the media about, is this criminal behaviour or is it xenophobia? Of course it's both." Almost every product in this store was taken - its Bangladeshi owner Samsu left with nothing. It all began when a 14-year old boy was shot dead by a foreigner while reportedly robbing a shop. But the police aren't convinced the new crime wave represents widespread xenophobia. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LIEUTENANT GENERAL SOLOMON MAKGALE, SPOKESPERSON OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN POLICE SERVICE (SAPS) SAYING: "There was this mass looting of foreign owned shops. So to then conclude that there is an attack on all the foreigners that are in this country. That is totally not true. What is happening is pure acts of criminality." Unemployment is a problem in South Africa - one in four are out of work and 40% of young people have no job. One in ten of South Africa's 50 million population are also immigrants. The country's apartheid history could be a factor. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INGRID PALMEREE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AND DIRECTOR OF THE AFRICAN CENTER FOR MIGRATION AND SOCIETY, SAYING: "What we've seen during these rounds of violence is the lack of police transformation. The extent to which police have sometimes been involved in the looting, have themselves acted in criminal ways etc. this is an old history in South Africa. We've also seen the proliferation of weapons. And we also see incredible prejudice fear and hostility." Samsu and his partners haven't yet decided whether to start again. But many other victims have - they're leaving the country for good.