Sunday, May 25, 2008

Tit for tat?

SA tourists flee, fearing retaliation.

Panicky South African tourists are reported to be evacuating Mozambique, fearing retaliation from locals for the xenophobic attacks on Mozambicans in South Africa.

President Armando Guebuza has urged his people "not to react with hatred".

For several days Maputo has been awash with rumours, including one that the South African High Commission in Maputo would be attacked and that vehicles with South African registrations should be stoned. E-mails and SMSes are doing the rounds, calling on Mozambicans to avenge the attacks on their fellow citizens.

These include calls for boycotts of the many South African businesses operating in the country and urging Mozambicans not to shop in Nelspruit, the nearest South Africa city across the border.

Maputo police spokesman Arnaldo Chefo confirmed that because of the threats of retaliation police had increased protection at the high commission.

So far no attacks on South African citizens or property have been confirmed but Maputo is reported to be tense and Mozambican immigration official Orlando Cossa was reported yesterday to have said that the flow of South African vehicles across the border from Mozambique at the Ressano Garcia border post had increased from the normal 100 a day to 600 over the last few days. And he said 1 671 vehicles had crossed into South Africa on Friday alone.

The ethnic cleansing in South African townships has already caused at least 11 000 Mozambicans to flee across the border and thousands more are sheltering in churches, sports grounds or police stations, waiting for transport to return to Mozambique.

On Thursday the Mozambican government declared a state of emergency to deal with the sudden return of so many of its nationals.

Guebuza stressed that there should be no retaliation against South African citizens.

He warned that anyone who thought that retaliation was an appropriate response would simply be multiplying acts of violence.

He argued that the attacks on Mozambicans and other foreigners living in South African townships had been stirred up "by forces that are enemies of the Mozambican and South African peoples".

"We have to do everything in our power to ensure that we emerge from this situation more strengthened as brothers," urged Guebuza.

The government has set up temporary accommodation centres for returnees at Beluluane, 30km outside Maputo and in the cities of Inhambane and Maxixe. Red Cross volunteers have been mobilised to help treat returnees who were injured in the violence.

Many of the returnees, however, are making their own way back home.

Meanwhile, the press has reflected the anger and indignation felt by Mozambicans at the brutality their relatives, friends and fellow countrymen have faced.

Two of the weekly papers published on Friday gave front page coverage to the violence with one-word titles - for O Pais, the attacks were simply "Terrorism" while the largest circulation weekly, Savan, carried the damning headline "Ingrates" - referring to the hospitality which South African refugees enjoyed in Mozambique during the years of apartheid.

South Africa's high commissioner in Mozambique Lujabe Rankoe said yesterday she had not heard reports of unusual numbers of South Africans leaving the country or of threats against South African people or property.
"It's very quiet," she said.

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