Shocking Street Violence Rocks South Africa

South Africa was shocked this weekend by a stunning series of photos showing helpless Mozambican migrant Emmanuel Sithole pleading for his life as a gang of men brutally murder him in a Johannesburg street. A crowd of silent onlookers can be seen behind doing nothing.

The men stalked him along the street then one clubbed him with a wrench, while another stabbed him. The Mozambican fell bleeding to the ground and died minutes later The man became the latest victim in a rash of anti-foreigner attacks sweeping across South Africa.

The shocking series of photos that gripped South Africa this weekend [courtesy of The Sunday Times]

Emmanuel Sithole lies motionless after the vicious attack. [courtesy of The Sunday Times]

Nearly 5,000 migrants, mostly from African nations, have been forced from their homes because of violence in recent weeks, according to the United Nations. Many are residing in squalid makeshift camps, while others have travelled back home to Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa. So far at least seven people have been killed. Many foreigner owned shops have been looted as foreigners are blamed for unemployment and other economic and social problems.

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s President, cancelled a trip to Asia on the weekend because of the crisis, while his cabinet ministers vowed that the perpetrators would be brought to justice. “We will find you and you will be dealt with to the full might of the law,” they said in a joint statement released Sunday. They announced that 307 people had been arrested since the attacks began.

The story of Emmanuel Sithole has stirred more vows of action. Photos of the murder went viral after they were published on Sunday in the Sunday Times, a leading South African newspaper.

While police promised to use the photos to track down the killers history shows they usually walk free. In nearly all cases of anti-foreigner violence, dating back to 2008 nobody has been convicted of the murders. The assumption they will never be brought to justice has likely fuelled the attacking mobs.

It is estimated that more than 350 people have been killed in xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa over the past seven years.

Researcher Jean Pierre Misago told the Sunday Times that he found evidence of only one successful prosecution for any of those hundreds of murders. In most cases, the charges were withdrawn or witnesses were too afraid to testify.

This finding exposes the shocking reality: South African authorities almost never prosecute the perpetrators of violence, including vigilante killings of suspected criminals; labour violence by union members; political violence; and anti-government protests in the streets.

This likely owes to an attitude stemming from the struggle with the apartheid regime. Much of the violence of that era was seen as justified, but it has continued for illegitimate purposes after democracy arrived in 1994.

By allowing protesters and street mobs to take the law into their own hands and by allowing police brutality to continue, the South African government has made it easier for the xenophobic violence to gain momentum and made it far more difficult to stop.

Stay Connected