JOHANNESBURG, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has condemned acts of violence between citizens and non-nationals, his office said.

Anti-immigrant violence has flared sporadically in South Africa against a background of near-record unemployment, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from citizens and getting involved in crime.

At least 20 stores in Pretoria owned by foreigners were looted on Tuesday, but police could not confirm that the attacks had deliberately targeted foreigners.

“Many citizens of other countries living in South Africa are law abiding and contribute to the economy of the country positively. It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers,” Zuma said in a statement.

“The threats and counter-threats on social media must stop,” he added.

Meanwhile, South African police have used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds at an anti-immigrant march in the capital, Pretoria.

A low-flying police helicopter was deployed to break up a stand-off between local protesters and foreigners, with both groups armed with sticks, bricks and knives.

The police mainly succeeded in keeping the rival groups apart

Zuma has condemned recent acts of violence and intimidation directed at African immigrants living in South Africa.

Earlier this week, angry mobs attacked Nigerians and looted shops belonging to Somalis, Pakistani and other migrants in townships around Pretoria and parts of Johannesburg.

The main group behind the Pretoria protests, Mamelodi Concerned Residents, has blamed foreign nationals for taking jobs and accused them of being involved in prostitution rings and drug cartels, accusations denied by immigrant communities.

The petition delivered by the group to the home affairs ministry alleged worshippers from Zimbabwean apostolic churches, who congregate in the open, were “destroying our public parks”, and accused them of defecating, urinating and burning fires.

It also said foreigners were “arrogant and don’t know how to talk to people, especially Nigerians”.

But President Zuma said many foreign citizens living in South Africa were law-abiding and contributed to the economy.

“It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers. Let us isolate those who commit such crimes and work with government to have them arrested, without stereotyping and causing harm to innocent people,” Zuma said in a statement.

Speaking to media after the protest, the president denied that South Africans were xenophobic and that the event “was anti-crime in the main. It was not an anti-foreigners march.”

“The number of foreigners in South Africa are far more than the numbers that Europe is fighting about… but nobody calls them xenophobic,” he added.

The home affairs minister announced plans to inspect workplaces to see if firms are employing undocumented foreigners.

Police in Pretoria say they have made more than a hundred arrests in the past 24 hours, amid the unrest.

Official government figures say the number of immigrants in South Africa has declined in recent years.

Figures released last year said there were 1.6 million foreign-born people in the country, down from 2.2 million in 2011.

South Africa experienced its worst outbreak of violence against foreigners in 2008, when more than 60 people died.

Two years ago, similar xenophobic unrest in the cities of Johannesburg and Durban claimed seven lives as African immigrants were hunted down and attacked by gangs.


News Reporter