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World

Dozens Arrested In Xenophobic Attacks In South Africa

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In South Africa, more than a hundred people have been arrested in a series of riots that have spread across the country. And as NPR's Eyder Peralta reports, rioters have specifically been targeting foreigners from other parts of Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT CROWD NOISE)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Videos posted on social media showed dozens of people forcing their way into shops, many, owned by immigrants. The rioters - men, women, young and old - emerge with speakers and bedding, even toilet paper.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT CROWD NOISE)

PERALTA: This scene repeated itself across South Africa, even in downtown Pretoria and Johannesburg. Stores were left completely bare. In some cases, they were set ablaze. In another, a group of people set fire to an informal settlement full of immigrants. Police spokesperson Mathapelo Peters told local media some stores were not owned by foreigners so they don't believe that was the reason for these attacks.

MATHAPELO PETERS: This is not targeted. It's just a general opportunistic thing where they find an opportunity to do crime, and they go for it.

PERALTA: But to Dewa Mavhinga, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, there is no doubt these were targeted attacks. In fact, he says, there were weeks of social media warnings that foreigners would be targeted. At a time when the South African economy is slumping and unemployment is almost 30%, they called for African immigrants to leave South Africa.

DEWA MAVHINGA: They accuse African foreign nationals of a host of problems and use them as scapegoats.

PERALTA: Mavhinga says top politicians in South Africa have blamed immigrants for the ills of the country so there has been a refusal to condemn these bouts of violence as xenophobic. And this, says Mavhinga, has led people to believe they can get away with crimes against immigrants.

MAVHINGA: And they are getting away with it because there is no political will by the leadership of the police to take decisive action and bring this to a halt.

PERALTA: If the past is any indication, he says, authorities will look the other way and no major arrests will be made. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.