A street vendor from Mozambique, Emmanuel Sithole, lay begging for his life in a gutter as four men beat him and stabbed him in the heart with a long knife. Images of his murder have shaken South Africa, already reeling from a wave of attacks on foreigners, mostly poor migrants from the rest of Africa. Soldiers were deployed on April 21st to Alexandra, a Johannesburg township, and other flashpoints to quell the violence, though only after seven people had been killed. Thousands of fearful foreigners, many from Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, have sought refuge in makeshift camps. Others have returned home.
South Africa has experienced such horrors before. During widespread anti-foreign violence in 2008, 62 people were killed and some 100,000 displaced. Photographs of the murder of another Mozambican man, Ernesto Nhamuave, whom a jeering mob burned alive in a squatter camp, led to declarations that such atrocities would never happen again. Yet no one was charged in Mr Nhamuave’s death: the case was closed after a cursory police investigation apparently turned up no witnesses (who were easily found by journalists earlier this year). The latest violence flared up in the Durban area earlier this month after King Goodwill Zwelithini, the traditional leader of the Zulus, reportedly compared foreigners to lice and said that they should pack up and leave.
His comments poured fuel on an already-smouldering fire. Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society in Johannesburg, estimates that at least 350 foreigners have been killed in xenophobic violence since 2008.