South Africa riots raise worry about anti-foreign sentiment
South African youths recently swept through an intersection in the heart of Soweto township, breaking into immigrant-owned shops and grabbing whatever they could soda, a loaf of bread, sometimes even the shelves.
Johannesburg: South African youths recently swept through an intersection in the heart of Soweto township, breaking into immigrant-owned shops and grabbing whatever they could soda, a loaf of bread, sometimes even the shelves.
Nearly 40 years ago, at the same intersection, young blacks marched to protest the white racist rulers of the time, drawing a bloody crackdown that shocked the world.
The recent looting and unrest that hit Soweto and other areas around Johannesburg was not as bloody as the anti-apartheid demonstrations and the ensuing bloodshed in 1976.
But it alarmed a nation built on the ideals of racial reconciliation and underscored that, two decades after apartheid was replaced by the promise of a "rainbow nation," many South Africans remain marginalized by a lack of economic opportunity.
Resentment against foreigners stoked the looting and rioting in late January that killed six people and forced many shopkeepers to flee.
Joyce Piliso-Seroke, 81, was arrested in 1976 for trying to help the marching students, some of whom burned buildings linked to the apartheid state.
The anti-government movements that once aired frustrations against white minority rule now control the state but don't have answers for the younger generation, she said.
"It's complete silence now in the country," Piliso-Seroke said, referring to the lack of effective prescriptions for fixing education and providing employment.
The weeklong disorder was sparked by the shooting of a 14-year-old South African boy by a Somali shop owner who believed he was being robbed. The rioting has died down and minibus taxis daily clog the road at the Soweto intersection.
On the sidewalk, overturned crates and a discarded door form a stand where bruised bananas and leafy spinach, pieces of bright cloth and plastic buckets are sold. A decades-old dilapidated shopfront faces a recently built supermarket chain.
Rows of high-heel shoes and strappy sandals are laid on a faded floral bedsheet on the pavement at a shoe stall run by Morena Malefetse, 29, and Tshepo Tsosane, 27.
It could have been an easy target for looters but they ignored the merchandise of local vendors, instead targeting a foreign-owned butchery and an electronics shop.
Malefetse and Tsosane condemned the violence against shops owned by people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere. But they said they understand the frustration on the streets.
"Young South Africans are hungry," said Malefetse, who sports tattoos on his calf and forearm.