Five people have been killed in xenophobic violence in South Africa, police said on Tuesday, as President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to clamp down on the attacks and the African Union and Nigeria sounded their alarm.
Scores of people – some armed with axes and machetes – gathered in Johannesburg’s central business district (CBD) for a third day of unrest directed against foreigners, hours after mobs burned and looted shops in the township of Alexandra, prompting police to fire rubber bullets to disperse them.
Five deaths – most of them South Africans – have been reported, police said, adding that 189 people had been arrested.
In a video address diffused on Twitter, Ramaphosa said attacks on businesses run by “foreign nationals is something totally unacceptable, something that we cannot allow to happen in South Africa.”
“I want it to stop immediately,” said Ramaphosa, adding that the violence had “no justification.”
Sporadic violence against foreign-owned stores and enterprises has a long history in South Africa, where many locals blame immigrants for high unemployment, particularly in manual labor.
The country is a major destination for economic migrants from neighboring Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Others come from much further away, including South Asia and Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.
But this week’s assaults seem to have been on a greater scale than in the past, although the full details remain unknown.
“They burned everything,” Bangladeshi shop owner Kamrul Hasan, 27, told AFP in Alexandra, adding that his shop gets attacked every three to six months.
“All my money is gone. If the (South African) government pays for my plane ticket, I will go back to Bangladesh,” he said.
Alexandra, one of the poorest urban areas in South Africa, is situated just five kilometers (three miles) from Sandton, the city’s gleaming business and shopping district.
More than 90 people were arrested on Monday in connection with the violence and looting of shops in Johannesburg and surrounding areas, the government said.
Similar incidents occurred in the capital Pretoria on Monday, when local media reported shacks and shops burning in the Marabastad – a central business area largely populated by economic migrants.