South African authorities arrested 11 men in a raid on a hostel in downtown Johannesburg, officials said Wednesday, as troops were sent in to support police in a crackdown on deadly immigrant attacks.
The raid late on Tuesday came hours after Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the army was deployed as a “last resort” after weeks of unrest that have left at least seven people dead.
As a helicopter hovered overhead, dozens of soldiers surrounded the workers’ hostel and police stormed inside the building, which has been a hotspot for xenophobic clashes in the city.
Officers moved from floor to floor conducting searches as residents lay face down in corridors.
“Eleven suspects were arrested in Jeppe hostel for possession of dagga (cannabis) and stolen property, aged between 24 and 49,” police spokesman Solomon Makgale said.
Mobs of South African men in Johannesburg and in the port city of Durban have targeted migrants from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and other African countries over the past three weeks.
The involvement of soldiers was criticised by the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party as a overreaction and a misuse of the military.
“(The) government is losing control over society and now resorting to extreme measures in the same manner done by the apartheid regime,” it said.
“Soldiers and armies all over the world are trained to kill, and we will not be shocked when instead of keeping peace in the townships, there are casualties.”
The spate of attacks has revived memories of xenophobic bloodshed in 2008, when 62 people were killed, tarnishing South Africa’s post-apartheid image as a “rainbow nation” of different groups living in harmony.
The South African army was deployed to restore order in the 2008 unrest, and was also used against violent strikers in 2012.