Two burned alive in Zambia after xenophobic accusations go viral

On Monday, 18 April 2016, two residents of Lusaka were killed by an anti-foreigner mob. The attacks were a result of xenophobic accusations which have been ongoing since at least seven Zambians were murdered recently and their body parts were removed – supposedly for witchcraft purposes. The riot targeted Rwandan born refugees who have been living in Zambia for several years, managing their own shops. Hundreds of Zambian residents participated in looting their shops and stoning their houses.

Some foreigners sought refuge at police stations while others found cover underground to protect themselves. The attackers looted many shops and took food and drinks as well as electrical equipment. In the Kanyama District, the mob even burned two people alive. The police have not yet confirmed their nationality, but they are believed to be foreigners. By Wednesday morning, it was reported that life went back to normal and the area was calm.

A Rwandan diplomat has praised the police for their quick and effective intervention, according to BBC Africa. Even in non-affected areas, police presence was increased and around 1,000 officers were deployed. They arrested more than 250 individuals who they held responsible for looting at least 62 Rwandan-owned shops. Authorities also arrested around 11 people who were allegedly behind the ritual killings. They warned residents not to believe false accusations in relation to the previous serial killings since March. It is believed that the xenophobic attacks were a consequence of high unemployment rates in the poorest districts, which were affected during the riot. These social tensions might have led to false accusations.

The 6,000 or so Rwandan refugees who sought refuge in Zambia after the 1994 genocide say they are shocked by these xenophobic events since normally they lived together very peacefully with locals. Many Zambians are also shocked because hostility against foreigners is not common in their country. These events were the most significant xenophobic attacks in Zambia so far. However, xenophobia is not new to Southern Africa.

In 2015, South Africa also experienced violence against immigrants – and unfortunately many times in recent years. Last year, South Africans targeted immigrant workers and their shops. During the violence they set many shops on fire while wielding machetes. Many foreigners escaped to police stations and hid in stadiums. South Africa’s unemployment rate was around 25% at the time when riots started to chase out immigrants from the country. According to The Wall Street Journal, “the wave of violence now gripping Zambia reflects how social tensions in some resource-rich African nations are being ignited as the commodity price crash percolates down to the streets”.