South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party on Wednesday condemned a wave of attacks against immigrant shopkeepers that has left at least six people dead and exposed sharp social tensions in the country.
The spate of looting has targeted shops and homes owned by Somalis, Ethiopians, Malawians and other immigrants, despite heavy police patrols in Johannesburg and the southern city of Durban.
“Over the last couple of weeks our nation has been engulfed in a shameful wave of attacks by some amongst us against our country’s immigrant population,” the ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994, said in a statement.
“(These are) criminal acts against vulnerable and defenseless people.
“The very real challenges faced by the South African people of poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment cannot be blamed on people of foreign nationality.”
The ANC statement came as President Jacob Zuma has been accused of failing to take a public stance against the xenophobic attacks.
Durban’s impoverished townships have been at the heart of the clashes between locals and immigrants, following a similar spate of attacks on foreign-owned shops in Soweto, near Johannesburg, earlier this year.
Over 1,000 foreigners in Durban have fled their homes and are now living in makeshift camps, under police guard.
On Wednesday, many shops in the centre of Johannesburg were shut down as owners feared that violence could erupt after threats spread via social networks and phone text messages.
“I’ve (been) 15 years here,” Milion Kassa, a 34 year-old Ethiopian shopkeeper, told AFP.
“What did we do wrong except work hard to improve our lives? And are the police saving us? No.”
Violence against African immigrants in South Africa is common, with unemployed locals accusing foreigners of taking their jobs and business.
In 2008, 62 people were killed in similar violence in Johannesburg townships.
Neighbouring Mozambique is planning to help some of its citizens flee from Durban, after Malawi announced its own repatriation plan on Monday.