Fear is growing that “gangster politics” is taking root in parts of South Africa, writes the BBC’s Andrew Harding after visiting an area hit by an outbreak of attacks on foreigners, mostly from elsewhere in Africa.
On the vast, rapidly urbanising plains east of South Africa’s commercial capital Johannesburg, the sporadic but grotesque violence of recent weeks has now subsided, leaving behind a sense of confusion and guilt.
At the same time, there is a gloomy confidence that this will not be the last time that such scenes – of firebombed shops, burned cars, terrified foreigners, looted supermarkets and armed mobs – play out on the streets of poor, dysfunctional townships like Katlehong.
“It is a time bomb. A time bomb,” said local community organiser Papi Papi, pointing across the road to a new informal settlement of perhaps 100 metal shacks crowded onto a small patch of wasteland.
“They caught him in his car and burned him alive,” he said, referring to the death of a Zimbabwean man during the unrest.
“These places are packed with migrants, more than locals. The government is not planning, just reacting, even [when it comes to] basic infrastructure, so that is where the problem is,” he explained.
A group of local men, playing a game of Ludo on a scrap of cardboard, at first insisted that opportunistic criminals were entirely to blame for the violence, but they soon began to complain about the presence of foreign nationals.
“I’m not xenophobic,” insisted a man who gave his first name as Alfred. “But these foreigners are prepared to work for less.”
“They work for small money,” his friend Frederick agreed. “And they hire their own, so it’s hard for us to compete. There is frustration.”
South Africa’s government has been quick to apologise for the latest spasm of xenophobic violence.
Although some politicians in the governing alliance have sought to blame the troubles on criminals and foreign governments, President Cyril Ramaphosa has led efforts to patch up the country’s image on the continent and to protect its foreign investments. -BBC