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Xenophobic attacks return in South Africa
Updated: 2009-08-07 09:09

Balfour was still tense last night as mobs continued to destroy street signs, buildings and cars. All roads leading to Siyathemba were strewn with rocks, broken glass, mattresses and sign posts.

In nearby Greylingstad, police escorted foreign shop owners to safety as a precaution. In Siyathemba, sporadic violence and looting continued throughout yesterday. Police fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse groups.

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Two municipal buildings were torched, along with a truck and tractor belonging to the local council.

Shortly before looting a store owned by a Chinese resident, a protester told The Times: "The mayor did not give us the right answer to our memorandum [handed over in July demanding access to water and electricity and job opportunities].

"We still have work to do," he said, pointing to the shops.

Nassir Hairtemam, an Ethiopian who has been in South Africa for seven years, was rescued by police on Sunday when looters ransacked his shop.

"They came into our shops with stones and pangas. They would've killed us," he said.

Not as fortunate was Melekamu Kachen. The 25-year-old Ethiopian beaten up by a mob and his store destroyed.

Superintendent Meshack Mtsweni, police operational commander in Balfour, said he feared for the lives of foreigners still in Siyathemba. "We cannot leave them in there because they will lose everything.”

Police patrolled Siyathemba last night.

Duncan Breen, spokesman for the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa, said there were "escalating problems" in parts of Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

Breen said: "This has been a long established pattern where foreigners are targeted [during service-delivery protests]."

He said locals used this as an excuse to "go out and loot".

Paul Mbenyane, ANC spokesman in Mpumalanga, said: "It is criminal what is happening. The service-delivery protests might be legitimate, but we suspect that they are being taken over by criminals. What is troubling the ANC in this province is why would people complain about water but then decide to burn down a clinic or a library? Acts of violence against business people and their properties should be seen as acts of criminality and nothing else, and we urge police to bring those implicated to book.”

The Times understands that Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Sicelo Shiceka will visit Mpumalanga tomorrow. His team is expected to audit all the municipalities in the province.

Mohlalefi Lebotha, spokesman for the Dipaleseng municipality, which includes Balfour and Greylingstad, said a meeting with the protesters was scheduled for today .

He denied service delivery was slow in the municipal area.

"We are implementing several projects for infrastructure development. It's not like nothing is happening."

"We are concerned because we believe criminal elements are using the protests for their own agenda," he said.

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