The South African government has condemned attacks against immigrants after a spate of assaults this week that raised fears of a resurgence of deadly xenophobic attacks.
“Government is concerned about the reported attacks on foreign nationals in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo,” the state communications department said in a statement issued Thursday night.
“We urge law enforcement agencies to ensure that perpetrators of these violent acts are brought to book”.
It called on community leaders to stop and discourage attacks on migrants reported in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal provinces.
Police in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal confirmed incidents of attacks by dozens of people which started on Sunday night targeting foreign-owned shops.
Attacks were also reported over the next two days and by Tuesday, police spokesman Thulani Zwane said, a group of protesters “were forcing the foreign nationals out of their homes. No one was injured or assaulted”.
He told AFP that police intervened, but “no serious incidents were reported”.
By Wednesday around 300 foreign nationals had sought refuge at a mosque in Durban, according to an AFP photographer.
Attacks against foreigners and foreign-run businesses have erupted regularly in recent years in South Africa – the most developed sub-Saharan economy.
Immigrants are often the focus for anger among South Africans hit by a chronic job shortage and the limited progress made by many poor blacks since white-minority rule ended in 1994.
South Africa is host to millions of foreign nationals – many of them economic and political refugees from across Africa including Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and Malawi.
An unknown number of the migrants are undocumented.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance is campaigning for the May 8 election on an illegal migration card, accusing the ruling ANC party of failing to protect the country’s borders.
Leader of the non-profit African Diaspora Union (AfriDu), Chidiebere Ogbu, cast the blame for the latest eruption of violence on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks at the ANC manifesto launch in January.
“His foot soldiers misunderstood him and started harassing innocent traders,” said Ogbu.
In the speech Ramaphosa had vowed to crack down on businesses operating illegally in townships and rural areas.
“We are going to bring this to an end and those who are operating illegally, wherever they come from must now know,” Ramaphosa said told supporters.