Riots in Johannesburg Target African Immigrants, Officials Say

FILE -- President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa in Johannesburg, March 27, 2018. President Donald Trump waded into South Africa’s proposal to seize land from white farmers, saying on Aug. 22, 2018, that he had asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “closely study” the “the large scale killing of farmers” — a claim disputed by official figures and the country’s biggest farmer’s group. (Joao Silva/The New York Times)
  • Police in Johannesburg have arrested at least 110 people after rioters set fire to cars and buildings and looted shops, the latest outbreak of violence against African immigrants in South Africa’s largest city. 

Julie Turkewitz / c.2019 The New York Times Company

The violence appeared to target shops owned by foreigners, said the mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, and follow a spate of similar riots this year that have been part of a larger trend of hostility toward outsiders.

Video and still images from the riots showed streets covered in debris and burned tires, with people carrying refrigerators and vending machines out of shops. Law enforcement officers have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.

There are fewer than 4 million migrants in South Africa, a nation of more than 50 million. But attacks on foreign-owned shops have become regular occurrences that many have attributed to frustration with the country’s high unemployment rate, which sits at about 28%.

The most recent surge in violence, which began Sunday, spurred an outpouring of anger both in and out of South Africa, though some officials sought to portray the violence as the product of criminals rather than a deeper antipathy toward outsiders.

The country’s police minister, Bheki Cele, said the violence was a result of “criminality rather than xenophobia,” adding that criminals were using intolerance as an “excuse” to loot.

The violence comes ahead of an October visit by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria to South Africa, where he is set to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa to discuss the rising tensions, including the violence against foreigners, among other issues.

On Monday, Nigeria’s foreign affairs minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, wrote on Twitter that he had received the “sickening and depressing news of continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops” in South Africa.

He blamed “mindless criminals” for the violence and said that police in South Africa were failing to provide suitable protection.