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By Baldwin Ndaba
A rampaging mob of South Africans chased Zimbabweans out of a squatter settlement near Johannesburg on Sunday before torching their homes and businesses.
The violence in Zandspruit squatter settlement, outside Honeydew, west of Johannesburg, erupted when the Zimbabweans failed to leave the area after being given a 10-day ultimatum - which expired on Saturday - to leave the area or face the wrath of the locals.
The ultimatum was allegedly brokered in a meeting held at the local police station.
Honeydew station commissioner Senior Superintendent Betty Ngobeni said the ultimatum had been a unilateral decision by the community, and police had warned the South Africans that they had no right to remove anyone who was a legal resident.
However, at a meeting called by the community on Sunday, it was decided to evict the Zimbabweans forcefullly.
Zandspruit residents Sibongile Magqadaza and Thoko Mpiko said the community had agreed to chase away the Zimbabweans and burn down everything that belonged to them. They said the community were angry that the Zimbabweans were employed, while hundreds of local citizens were jobless.
They also claimed the Zimbabweans were involved in a series of armed robberies, rapes and muggings. Magqadaza said South African women involved in relationships with Zimbabweans had been told to leave their partners or face the consequences.
The angry community burnt and demolished the immigrants' shacks. Television sets, fridges and stoves were destroyed.
Zimbabwean-owned tuckshops were also burnt down.
Police later moved into the area and used rubber bullets to disperse the rampaging mob. Six people were injured in the police action.
West Rand police publicist Captain Paula Nothnagel said 20 people had been arrested for public violence. She said 74 shacks had been burnt down and 174 shacks looted.
Nothnagel said there were no fatalities or injuries among the Zimbabweans. She could not confirm reports that the locals had threatened to necklace the Zimbabweans.
Scores of Zimbabweans fled the area. Some went to seek assistance at the Honeydew police station, where officers tried to arrange accommodation through the Rhema Bible Church.
Len Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean who has lived in South Africa for 19 years, said harassment of the foreigners began five weeks ago.
"The problem started at a disco when a Zimbabwean shot and killed a South African. The locals then decided to launch an action against criminal activities in the area. The action later changed, and they started to target all Zimbabweans."
Ndlovu said several meetings were held in a bid to resolve the crisis, but nothing had succeeded, and matters came to a head with the "horrible attack on us".
Ndlovu and fellow Zimbabweans Victor Ndiwe, Melusi Ndlovu and Samuel Ndlovu, all of whom have work permits, appealed to the government to provide them with alternative land.
The four said they were held responsible for every crime committed in Zandspruit.
Jody Kollapen, of the Human Rights Commission, said the HRC did not condone xenophobic acts, especially if there were severe consequences like forced evictions and the burning down of shacks.
"We have just had a world conference against racism, and one theme was to challenge xenophobia.
"An effort has to be made to teach people to look at Zimbabweans not as people who are in South Africa to steal jobs and land, but as people who are in the country to make an honest living."