“Any lawlessness will not be tolerated,” Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told reporters in Cape Town on Tuesday.
The wave of attacks in Durban were sparked by locals who accused a supermarket of firing workers and hiring foreigners to replace them, according to the police. Six people were arrested on Monday night as looting of shops spread in areas like KwaMashu, outside of Durban. At least 48 suspects have been arrested since April 11, according to Mapisa-Nqakula.
Three camps set up near Durban to accommodate immigrants who have fled their homes are housing between 1,272 and 1,472 people, Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko told reporters.
South Africa is in the midst of the worst anti-foreigner violence since 2008, when about 60 people were killed and 50,000 displaced from their homes. Attacks against mainly Somali, Ethiopian and Pakistani immigrants in townships around Johannesburg flared up in January after a Somali shop owner shot and killed a 14-year-old boy during an alleged burglary.
While the government blames criminals rather than xenophobia for much of the violence, the presence of thousands of immigrants in South African townships has stoked resentment among some locals who see them as competitors for jobs and housing.
Comments by some government ministers and public officials criticizing the influx of foreign-owned shops may also be inflaming the situation, according to human rights groups.
On March 23, the Durban-based Mercury newspaper cited Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini as saying foreigners were depriving South Africans of economic opportunities and should return home. The king’s office said his speech was misinterpreted.
“The vast majority of refugees and asylum seekers on arrival in the country present themselves to the authorities and are given documents that allow them to stay legally,” Clementine Nkweta-Salami, southern Africa representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said in a statement on Tuesday. “To lump them in the category of illegal migrants or unlawful residents is not only incorrect but also serves to stigmatize them.”
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