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World Cup spirit hopes to ease xenophobia

As South Africans savoured the final days of the World Cup, their government on Thursday sought to reassure immigrants that they would remain welcome after the foreign fans leave.


The nation rallied around fellow African teams in the tournament and celebrated with foreign fans, but government is concerned at fears among poor immigrant communities of xenophobic violence.

Anti-foreigner attacks left 62 people dead across South Africa in May 2008, and community groups say tensions have risen again.

The police ministry, the ruling African National Congress, and even Nelson Mandela’s foundation have all made forceful statements against xenophobia.

After top government officials met to look into the concerns, police minister Nathi Mthethwa said government would work with churches, businesses and local leaders to ease tensions in immigrant communities.

“South Africans are not xenophobic. They have shown this over the month that we have hosted the World Cup,” he told reporters.

“We will ensure this is dealt with. We are involving stakeholders in various sectors of society like politics, religion and business — as we have with the World Cup — to help address this issue.”

No incidents reported over Cup

No incidents have been reported, but community groups say they want to mitigate the tensions, which researchers say stem from competition for political posts and business opportunities.

“We can’t simply ignore these threats as just rumours and yet we cannot give them too much credit,” said Nkosikhulule Nyembezi, an advocate at human rights group Black Sash.

“We are meeting with communities trying to verify the authenticity of the allegations and put prevention measures in place,” he said.

President Jacob Zuma has repeatedly praised South Africans for uniting behind the World Cup, as fans of all races have celebrated together in stadiums.

Zimbabweans leave

This week outside Cape Town, dozens of Zimbabweans were seen along a highway trying to hitch-hike to Johannesburg and then catch a bus home, saying they feared attacks.

Mthethwa, however, said the Zimbabweans on the move were seasonal workers leaving the area after the harvest to search for new work.

The Mandela Foundation urged South Africans to keep up the inclusive spirit that has marked the World Cup.

“We have seen South Africans unite around a common support for African teams during the 2010 FIFA World Cup,” it said.

“We hope that this will lead to greater appreciation by South Africans of our place on this continent and that we will show greater solidarity with non-nationals,” it added.

Only two matches are left in the World Cup, with Saturday’s competition for the third place spot in Port Elizabeth and Sunday’s final in Johannesburg between the Netherlands and Spain.

Aviation authorities were embarrassed Friday after a logjam in landing bays caused delays for 700 fans trying to see Spain’s 1-0 victory over Germany.

The delays for five planes caused some fans to miss the game, said Bongani Maseko, operations director at Durban’s airport.

Other fans were late for the match, but given special buses to bring them to the stadium.

The final match has sold out, and FIFA says overall attendance at all World Cup matches has topped three million, only the third tournament to do so.

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