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Somalis Face Anti-Immigrant Attacks In S. Africa
CAPE TOWN, Sept 1, 2006 - A group of Somali children laugh and play on a secluded field outside Cape Town, oblivious to the hatred and violence that have driven their parents from their homes and businesses.
Police said on Friday a South African mob attacked Somali refugees this week in Masiphumelele, a tiny black township near the quiet seaside town of Kommetjie, about 40 km (25 miles) south of the country's tourist hub, looting and torching shops and forcing scores into hiding.
Analysts say widespread poverty and a large African immigrant population has bred jealously, making Africa's biggest economy rife for xenophobia.
Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants, jostling for limited jobs and adding to already high crime rates, have sparked distrust and hatred of legitimate refugees.
Attacks against Somalis have occurred across South Africa over the past six months and in the Cape Town region 27 citizens of the war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation have been murdered in the last month alone, according to police figures.
"There is fear amongst the Somali people living in this country," 26-year-old Madith Haji Adam told Reuters, as a handful of children play ball on a campsite field nearby.
"Our property has been destroyed and our businesses are gone. Everybody is desperate, just waiting to see what will happen next," he said, his grasp of English making him a spokesman for his fellow countrymen clamoring to be heard.
Haji Adam settled in South Africa two years ago to escape civil war in his homeland, hoping for a better future in Africa's economic powerhouse, which opened its borders after the end of apartheid in 1994 to fellow Africans fleeing strife.
Others in this group of 35 people hiding from their former neighbors have lived in the region for more than a decade.
The latest attacks have been directed at township "spaza" shops -- small stores selling soft drinks and snacks or clothes -- in which Somali businesspeople have flourished.
Local residents blame them for loss of trade, and dwindling profits, provoking mob violence and gangster-type hits.
More than a decade after the end of apartheid, the vast majority of South Africa's black population remains desperately poor, accounting for the bulk of the country's almost 30 percent official unemployment.
"Desperate people do desperate things," said Frans Cronje, analyst at the South African Institute for Race Relations. "We have seen this happen elsewhere. Foreign black Africans are targeted mainly when they are living in black communities."
Cronje said the issues are usually the same: "That they are stealing jobs from South Africans, they are stealing services from South Africans and that they are stealing South African women."
The regional Western Cape government is investigating the attacks, promising to help the total of almost 80 Somalis forced to flee to return safely to their homes.
Shielded by police and housed by local church and community groups, the immigrants fear for their future, too scared to return to their homes and what remains of their businesses.