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As Social Unrest Simmers in South Africa, Some Again Target Immigrants

Rising social tensions among South Africa's poor have spawned violence against foreigners, more than 100 of whom sought refuge at Balfour Police Station in Mpumalanga province in the northeast after local residents started to beat them and loot their shops.

Correspondent Benedict Nhlapho reported for VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe from Johannesburg on the concern among Zimbabweans in particular.

Sixty-two people died in May 2008 when xenophobic violence against foreigners flared with gangs randomly beating and killing those perceived as immigrants. Some estimate as many as 2 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to South Africa for mostly economic reasons.

Meanwhile South African Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka told a local radio station Thursday the government will crack down on riots in the townships.

"We are not going to allow anybody to use illegal means to achieve their objective," he said of the riots that are seen as a major challenge for new President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma in May promised to fight poverty and improve the delivery of essential services.

Zuma's African National Congress released a statement saying it has a "deep understanding of the seriousness and impact that lack of service delivery has in the lives of the people".

But it said that it "strongly condemns all criminal acts in the form of violence against foreign nationals, destruction of state and private property, and looting of shops in some parts of the country under the guise of 'service delivery protests."

Police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators in Johannesburg, the Western Cape and in Mpumulanga, news reports said.

In the southern coastal city of Durban, at least 94 members of the South African Unemployed People's Movement were arrested after raiding two supermarkets in the city center and helping themselves to food without paying.

For perspective on the turmoil, reporter Sandra Nyaira turned to David Moore, professor of development at the University of South Africa, who said such protests are to be expected in a country where poverty is still so widespread, especially during a global downturn.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...