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South African Government Denies Xenophobia Played Role In Man's Death


In South Africa, seven people were killed in recent violence against foreigners. One of those killings was captured by a photographer. The photos show a man being stabbed and beaten to death in broad daylight in Johannesburg. South Africa's president angered many by suggesting that the dead man, a Mozambican, was the victim of random crime, not xenophobia. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: The Johannesburg City Choir sings during an emotional memorial service in Johannesburg this week for Emmanuel Josias, a Mozambican known in South Africa as Emmanuel Sithole. He was killed during a spate of attacks against immigrants, the second major eruption of such violence in South Africa in seven years.


QUIST-ARCTON: Josias worked as a petty trader in sometimes-volatile Alexandra Township in northern Johannesburg, providing for his family in Mozambique and other relatives here, including his cousin, Veronica Sithole. Representing the family, the 26-year-old waitress spoke directly to her cousin's attackers.


VERONICA SITHOLE: Do you know who you have killed? You have killed Emmanuel Sithole. You have killed our brother. You have killed a prince. You have killed a son. You have killed a father. You have killed a hero. I say stop. Xenophobia, it hurts.

QUIST-ARCTON: During his Freedom Day speech on Monday, President Jacob Zuma condemned the killing, but suggested the Mozambican was not a victim of xenophobia.


JACOB ZUMA: Reports indicate that he used a false name to avoid detection by authorities, as he was an illegal immigrant. Manuel Josias was killed during a callous robbery.

QUIST-ARCTON: What, people are asking, has the status of Josias, whether documented or undocumented, got to do with his killing? That it's one thing to be an illegal immigrant and another to be stabbed to death during another frenzy of violence against foreigners caught on camera.


GRACA MACHEL: Yes, it is xenophobic. I want to affirm that because there are people in this country who are asking whether these attacks are xenophobic or not. Yes, they are xenophobic.

QUIST-ARCTON: Graca Machel, Nelson Mandela's widow who is herself Mozambican and was once her country's first lady, was among those who attended the memorial for Josias. Describing herself as one of the most visible faces of a foreigner in South Africa, Machel was outspoken when she rose to address the gathering.


MACHEL: Today, the anger of South Africans expressed itself as if it's against foreigners. But tomorrow, it will be against South Africans themselves.

QUIST-ARCTON: Many impoverished South Africans are frustrated 21 years after the end of white-minority rule. South Africa has high unemployment and high levels of immigration from neighboring countries and beyond. Angry South Africans accuse the newcomers of taking their jobs, homes and amenities. And the president's remarks about Josias has sparked a debate about what classifies as xenophobia in South Africa. Mandela's Mozambican widow warns...


MACHEL: It is not going to go away until we address the root causes of all these problems - political, economic, social. We shouldn't be surprised if other eruption of these kind of things appear.


QUIST-ARCTON: Direct attacks on foreigners appear to have stopped, but thousands of people are still displaced in transit camps. Hundreds more have been bussed to their home countries across South Africa's borders. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Johannesburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.