JOHANNESBURG. – Thousands of people marched through South Africa’s main city, Johannesburg, yesterday to demand an end to a recent wave of xenophobic attacks.
Both locals and immigrants took part, with placards saying “Africa Unite” and “Welcome foreigners”.
An anti-xenophobic protest is also taking place in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth.
South Africa’s army was deployed to flashpoints on Monday to prevent further violence.
At least seven people have been killed, 5 000 left homeless and many foreign-owned shops looted since the attacks started about three weeks ago.
“We will defeat xenophobia like we defeated apartheid,” the Premier of South Africa’s Gauteng Province, David Makhura, told the crowd in Johannesburg.
Gauteng is the economic heartland of South Africa and includes Johannesburg.
Many unemployed South Africans accuse foreigners of taking their jobs.
South Africa has an official unemployment rate of around 25 percent.
The crowd marched through Johannesburg’s Hillbrow suburb, which some described as Lagos because of its huge Nigerian population.
Many shops owned by African and Asian immigrants have been looted and burnt. Protesters sang a sorrowful song, “Senzenina”, or “What have we done?” It was popular at funerals of anti-apartheid activists during white-minority rule.
“Mandela must be turning in his grave. This is not the South Africa he fought for,” Johannesburg resident Vusi Hlongwane told the BBC.
South Africa’s freedom was won through such solidarity. “Africa for all” was the message shared by the tens of thousands who marched through the streets of Johannesburg.
A sea of people from different parts of the continent carried banners in support of the day’s event. They are hoping the same spirit that led South Africa to freedom will help bring unity.
The events of the past few weeks have brought shame to many South Africans and the country. But many speakers sought to remind South Africans that in the days of apartheid it was the rest of Africa that became a home for this country’s leaders, reminded them that its liberation was won with the support of the entire continent.
“They were welcomed with open arms and never treated how some of you are treating them now,” one leader said. As they danced and sang together, calling for an end to the violence that has brought fear to some communities here, a group shouted: “This is for Mandela” another: “Mayibuye iAfrika” – an old slogan calling for the revival of Africa. For those hours, it seemed that Africa stood united.
In Port Elizabeth, a silent march has been held, with some protesters waving a Zimbabwean flag and carrying placards which said: “Diversity is our strength”.
South Africa has faced a backlash across Africa over the attacks.
Official data suggests there are about two million foreign nationals in South Africa, about 4 percent of the total population. But some estimates put the number of immigrants at five million. – BBC.