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What’s behind the wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa?

Over the weekend, South African leader Jacob Zuma canceled a trip overseas following a wave of xenophobic violence against immigrants. David Smith of the Guardian joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Johannesburg to discuss the backlash.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And now to South Africa.

    This weekend, the leader of that country, Jacob Zuma, canceled an overseas trip, this following days of violence there against immigrants.

    For more, we are joined now via Skype from Johannesburg by David Smith of The Guardian newspaper.

    David, we should say that you are on battery power. You are talking to us during a blackout.

    What has been happening there over the past few weeks? What is the source of this violence?

  • DAVID SMITH, The Guardian:

    There has been an outbreak of xenophobic violence targeting many African foreign nationals living in South African, and at least six deaths, and the U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people displaced, many to transit camps set up around major cities.

    It's what, you know, many would say is due to underlying problems of unemployment and poverty, and, you know, has been condemned by the South African government and many civil society leaders, and really a flare-up and a trend that we have seen over at least 10 years.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, the people who are being attacked, where are they from?

  • DAVID SMITH:

    Zimbabwe, in many cases, Malawi, Mozambique, many from Nigeria, a few other African countries.

    Sometimes, they are — they are fleeing conflicts and violence in their homeland. Sometimes, they are economic migrants.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How about is the unemployment situation in South Africa that is prompting some of this backlash?

  • DAVID SMITH:

    The official unemployment rate in South Africa is about one in four people.

    Most experts would say that's actually an underestimate and it is closer to one in three. And the worst affected of all are young black people, where it's, some estimates, half.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    This has also prompted a reaction from South Africa's neighbors. Tell me a bit about that.

  • DAVID SMITH:

    Yes, there have been demonstrations at several South African embassies around Africa.

    There has been an incident where South African vehicles were pelted with stones in neighboring Mozambique. There have been threats to close South African businesses. This, sadly, has really driven divisions between South Africa and the rest of the continent.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, David Smith of The Guardian newspaper, joining us via Skype from a dark Johannesburg tonight, thank you.

  • DAVID SMITH:

    Thank you.

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