The hashtag #XenophobicSA has erupted on social media after attack on African migrants in Durban left three dead, others injured and several migrant owned shops looted.
While xenophobic attacks are nothing new in South Africa, the recent spate of attacks are attributed to comments allegedly made by Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulu ethnic group and figurehead of the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, who criticised the presence of immigrants in South Africa.
In the presence of both Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and provincial MEC Willies Mchunu, the king was reported to have told the gathering that it was time foreigners were told to return to their countries.
The king accused them of messing up the country’s towns by hanging their fake clothing brands on the streets.
“Now when you walk down the street you can’t recognise a shop you used to know because it has been taken over by foreigners who mess it up by hanging up rags,” the king said.
The king in turn has criticised the media, saying his words were taken out of context and he was referring to foreigners who are in the country illegally. “The way you report in your newspapers … you misinterpret and distort my words to sell your newspapers,” Zwelithini said.
The unrest erupted two weeks ago in Isipingo and Chatsworth, where several grocery shops owned by foreign nationals were looted and vandalised. Foreign shopkeepers in and around the township were then forced to vacate their premises after violence and looting broke out.
It has now spread to KwaMakhutha and Umlazi, also in the south of Durban, forcing over a thousand mostly African foreign nationals to flee their township homes.
Some of those who have fled are being housed in community halls and tents pitched in sports grounds.
President Jacob Zuma Friday spoke out against the attacks, saying “no amount of economic hardship and discontent will ever justify attacking foreign nationals”.
He said the government was “deeply concerned” about the violence.
Some foreigners have begun to fight back, with a group protesting against the violence in an illegal march on Wednesday that was broken up by police who fired tear gas.
Jeff Wicks, a senior journalist with News24 Durban has been covering the incidents.
#XenophobicSA – attacks on foreign nationals have spread to Umlazi with shops looted and razed overnight.— Jeff Wicks (@wicks_jeff) April 13, 2015
#Xenophobia – as with most of Durban the situation here in town is tense. The police are reluctant to move.— Jeff Wicks (@wicks_jeff) April 13, 2015
At a shop in Lindelani. Heavily armed police are guarding a group of Somali shopkeepers fleeing with there wares. pic.twitter.com/7FTHeb0VMy— Jeff Wicks (@wicks_jeff) April 13, 2015
My parting shot on #xenophobia for the evening. What a shocking indictment that our people will burn a man alive for a bag of maize meal.— Jeff Wicks (@wicks_jeff) April 14, 2015
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Sources: BBC, Times LIVE, Mail and Guardian Africa, New Zimbabwe