South Africa has been hit by an outbreak of xenophobic violence in its biggest city, attracting criticism from other African nations in the weekly political and business leaders from at least 28 countries gather in Cape Town.
A spate of violence that broke out in suburbs south of Johannesburg’s city center on Sunday and spread to the central business district on Monday saw the destruction of more than 50 mainly foreign-owned shops and business premises.
Cars and properties were torched and widespread looting took place.
“We believe that these attacks are xenophobic,” said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
The attacks came ahead of the beginning of the African edition of the World Economic Forum in Cape Town on Wednesday and before a state visit to South Africa by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, a country whose nationals have been affected, next month.
“The continuing attacks on Nigerian nationals and businesses in South Africa are unacceptable,” the government of Nigeria said on Twitter.
“Enough is enough. Nigeria will take definitive measures to ensure the safety and protection of its citizens.”
Police Minister Bheki Cele insisted recent violence was linked to “criminality” rather than “xenophobia”.
The violence echoes sporadic outbreaks of attacks mainly targeting migrants from other African countries in some of South Africa’s poorest areas.
In 2008 about 60 people were killed and over 50,000 forced from their homes and in 2015 seven people died in the violence. Migrants are seen as competition for scarce jobs and government services.
Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Nigerians, Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants have previously been the target of the violence.
Other Nigerian politicians, including former presidential election candidate Oby Ezekwesili called for stronger intervention by the government.
Zambia warned its truck drivers, many of whom drive goods south to the South African port of Durban, to stay out of the country.
Human Rights Watch last week reported that dozens of truck drivers in the country had died in attacks against foreigners since March 2018.
South African politicians condemned the violence, in which one person was shot dead, according to eNCA, a local television station. At least 41 people were arrested.
Still, politicians from the ruling African National Congress have in the past made anti-immigrant comments and Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, has attracted criticism from human rights groups for his frequent attacks on undocumented migrants.
Mashaba is a member of the opposition Democratic Alliance.
The violence is “unacceptable”, Ace Magashule, the secretary-general of the ANC, said in remarks broadcast on television.
“We condemn this violence which is taking place, irrespective of whatever reasons people want to give,” he said