South African police on Monday arrested over 60 people linked with looting in Johannesburg during anti-foreigner protest in the transport industry.
Concise News learned that the police said in a statement that not less than 41 people were arrested after hundreds of them marched through Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD), looting shops and destroying cars and buildings.
The tension started on Sunday when an old building in the CBD caught fire and collapsed, killing at least three people. It then spread two eastern areas.
Many South Africans accused foreigners of the high rate of unemployment, particularly in manual labour.
Police Minister Bheki Cele maintained that the violence was connected to “criminality” rather than “xenophobia“.
After a tour of the CBD, Cele told journalists that “(Xenophobia) is used as an excuse.
“For now there is nothing that has sparked any form of this conflict between the South Africans and foreign nationals.”
Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama reacted strongly to the scenes of violence.
He twitted on his Twitter handle, saying, “Received sickening and depressing news of continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops and premises in #SouthAfrica by mindless criminals with ineffective police protection.
“Enough is enough. We will take definitive measures.”
Meanwhile, another police in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) said at least 20 individuals had been arrested “in connection with incidents related to protests within the trucking industry”.
Taxi drivers clashed with police in the capital Pretoria last week, and truckers started a nation-wide strike on Sunday to protest against the employment of foreign drivers.
Eleven trucks on Sunday blocked the road to Richards Bay Harbour, one of the deepest natural harbours in Africa, KZN police spokesman Jay Naicker said.
In the Western Cape province, several protesters blocked roads with their vehicles.
In a statement from the provincial transport minister, Bonginkosi Madikizela, “several roads had to be closed for traffic from early morning due to trucks blocking the road while others were seen offloading sand on the road.”
Human Rights Watch last week reported that dozens of truck drivers in the country had died in attacks against foreigners since March 2018.
This was made known in a report released after a recent spate of xenophobic violence fuelled by economic decline and record unemployment.
A South African truck owners’ association quoted by the HRW reported 75 such incidents since March this year, 15 of which were independently confirmed by the watchdog.
Lieutenant-General Khombinkosi Jula, police chief for KZN province, where at least two trucks were torched, said they had intensified patrols along major routes.
South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from the southern Africa region, with many moving from neighbouring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in search for work.
Meanwhile, the latest population census in 2011 shows that numbers surged in the previous decade.
Nearly half of international migrants had moved to South Africa between 2005 and 2010. An unknown number of the migrants are undocumented.
Labour ministry spokesman Makhosonke Buthelezi last week told AFP that employers “prefer (foreign truck drivers) because they can work long hours at a much cheaper cost, so they tend to exploit them”.
Sipho Zungu, chairman of the All Truck Drivers Foundation, told AFP his group had had “nothing to do with the strike”, but stressed that it was fighting for the employment of South African drivers.
“People of South Africa are hungry, they are sitting at home.. while companies in South Africa are employing foreigners …(because) its cheap labour. We are hungry and angry,” Zungu said.
But the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), which has over 200,000 members, distanced itself from the violence.
“Whenever there are faceless people calling a strike, there tends to be violence,” SATAWU spokeswoman Zanele Sabela told AFP.