The Malawian government on Thursday said that it had hired two buses to repatriate nationals, who were displaced following xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa.
The buses left Johannesburg on Tuesday evening and the repatriated Malawians would be back home on Thursday, the Secretary for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, Wilson Moleni, said in a statement.
Moleni said the repatriation operation was decided after the government received a report from the Malawi High Commission in South Africa saying that 113 Malawians had been displaced.
The displaced Malawians were being kept in temporary shelters set by the South Africa’s disaster management authorities in Katlehong town, 35 km east of Johannesburg, said the secretary in the statement.
He added: “Out of the 113 displaced Malawians, 76 expressed willingness to return home.”
Upon arrival, the repatriated Malawian nationals will be provided with temporary shelter in the commercial city of Blantyre before traveling to their various destinations, according to Moleni.
“The repatriation came after riots in Pretoria and Johannesburg killed at least 12 people as 1,000 foreign-owned businesses were targeted.
“The nationalities of those killed have not been announced but Nigerians, Ethiopians, Congolese, and Zimbabweans were attacked, according to local media.
The violence sparked an international outcry and calls for a boycott of South Africa.
More than 700 people from other countries, including Malawi and Zimbabwe, have sought refuge in community centres.
Many left their homes with little more than a few bags when the violence began.
”Mozambique and Zimbabwe were also considering some sort of repatriation of their nationals.
In 2008, at least 62 people, including South Africans, were killed. Violence and looting targeting foreign-owned stores left seven dead in 2015.
“It happened in 2008 and then in 2015, now it is repeating.”
The root cause of the latest violence is still unclear, but high unemployment, poverty and criminality may have played a role.
Foreigners in South Africa fear for safety after attacks
South African officials were hesitant to describe the violence as xenophobic attacks, and instead said it was an issue of criminality that the government was trying to deal with.
“While there has been a significant decline in the number of incidents, police forces remain on high alert and are closely monitoring hotspots to ensure further violence does not erupt,” Minister of Defence Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Police have arrested at least 653 people, mostly South Africans but some foreigners as well, in connection to the attacks, Minister of Police Bheki Cele said.
NAN reports that Nigeria said it will repatriate some 600 citizens from South Africa after the wave of xenophobic violence.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to visit South Africa in October to discuss the violence and seek a solution.