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Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 14:34 UK

Rainbow nation's outsiders live in fear

Local residents watch shacks burning on 25 May 2008 as firefighters attempt to extinguish it in the Denver squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Johannesburg

Just a modest crowd - mainly elderly South African women - turned up to St Michael's Church in Alexandra township for a special service to mark a year since their country's descent into xenophobic violence.

A new shopping centre was being opened in the area near central Johannesburg. "Perhaps the people preferred to go there," remarked one bystander, trying to explain the poor attendance.

Her remark symbolised what many human rights activists claim has been the "inadequate" response by the authorities to last year's anti-foreigner bloodshed.

Sixty-two people were killed and about 100,000 were displaced.

ANC distracted?

Yet some believe the African National Congress (ANC) government has become distracted by other things.

In May 2008 international newspapers carried the horrific image of Ernesto Nhamuave - a Mozambican man who was "necklaced" - torched by a marauding mob - simply for being a foreigner.


You know what [foreigners] they're like, they take all the jobs
Township dweller

The 35-year-old father of three later died of his injuries.

It resembled the appalling violence during the struggle against white minority rule.

During last year's xenophobic violence the clashes were between black Africans: locals and those considered outsiders.

South Africa now has a new president, a ruling party which is trying to patch up rifts and factionalism following the ousting of former President Thabo Mbeki, and an ambitious plan to showcase the nation when it hosts the Fifa World Cup in 2010.

Jean Pierre Misago, from the University of Witswatersrand, has been studying the violence.

"It might look different - there isn't any fighting, but 60 people died, dozens were raped, yet no one has been charged for murder or rape," he says.

"There's been no government response to make sure that the rights of foreigners are protected."

He is among the many who fear that if not confronted head on, anti-foreigner sentiment could grow like a festering wound.

In Ramaphosa settlement, where shacks stand side-by-side with brick buildings and a tarmac road runs through the centre, the anti- foreigner sentiment is still simmering beneath the surface.

A photo by Alon Skuy which is part of an exhibition at Constitutional Hill showing people hiding from attackers during last year's violence
A new photographic exhibition seeks to preserve evidence of the bloodshed

"The crime's got better here since the foreigners moved out," said one woman.

"You know what they're like, they also take all the jobs."

She was the neighbour of a former Mozambican hairdresser whose salon I saw being burnt down a year ago.

The shop is now in South African hands. The Mozambican owner has fled.

One of his countrymen, a man named Abdul, explained what it is like to be a foreigner in South Africa today.

"They beat me last year. Some have told us after [the election of] a new president we're going to start again, so it's better that you run away now before we beat you again," he said.

Almost all the foreigners we spoke to had heard rumours that meetings were planned by disgruntled South African neighbours, keen to get them out.

Uneasy truce

When we approached the "organisers", they refused to be interviewed.

This uneasy truce has left community workers like David trying to hold the peace.

A crowd, armed with clubs, machetes and axes on a rampage on May 20, 2008 during xenophobic clashes at Reiger Park, south of Johannesburg
Mobs turned on their neighbours, prompting an exodus of foreigners

"The foreigners are visible," he said. "They've started to re-open businesses, but their prices are less than the South Africans.

"It's a free market, so we are going to have to solve this. It is a problem about communication."

But if his message does not get through there are worries about a repeat of last year's violence.

Countless reports have sought to pinpoint the trigger for the violence.

An exhibition of photographs at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg has sought to preserve evidence of the bloodshed for posterity.

Poverty, lack of service delivery on housing, health and jobs are the factors that researchers believe underpinned the violence.

Other African countries suffer the same, yet fellow Africans appear not to be targeted in the same way.

Kiosk invasion

In Kenya, where I spent the past four years, it is not uncommon to see a person set up an informal stall or kiosk at the side of the road and begin trading.

Protest on 24 May 2008 in Johannesburg over xenophobic attacks
Last year's orgy of violence spawned a wave of protests

Researchers at the University of Witswatersrand have pointed to the "micro-politics" of South African townships and informal settlements.

The unique and bitter history that South Africa endured under apartheid has exposed the fact that such behaviour is not welcome.

It is a subtle difference that a South African colleague sought to explain.

People here are used to trading from their homes or from their cars, but setting up a kiosk is seen as an encroachment of territory.

'Unfair competition'

The presence of foreign traders, who sell cheap, is also considered "unfair competition".

There have been reports of abuses - foreign labour taken on at below the minimum wage - freezing South Africans out, but this is a separate issue.

The ANC government has pledged to address problems of housing, crime and unemployment, but analysts say it must also try to overcome the sense of "passive citizenship", by encouraging people to become job creators, not simply job-seekers.

South African president Jacob Zuma after his inauguration on 10 May 2009
President Zuma faces a test meeting South Africans' high expectations

For some of the three million Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa, the government has indicated that it plans to be more flexible.

Visa restrictions have been relaxed and the authorities are no longer deporting Zimbabweans from a holding centre in Braamfontein back to Zimbabwe.

But there are Mozambicans, Malawians, Somalis and Kenyans who want to know where they stand.

President Jacob Zuma faces a tough challenge meeting the high expectations of South Africans, disappointed about the perceived lack of delivery of services but prepared to give the ANC another chance.

And balancing the rights of foreigners, who under South Africa's constitution, enjoy the same rights as anyone else here.



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