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An anti-immigration march is underway in South Africa’s capital Pretoria, following a spate of attacks targeting homes and shops owned by foreigners in the capital.
Protesters, some of whom have blocked roads with burning tyres, marched towards the Department of Home Affairs to protest against illegal immigration.
Local journalists report that the Police was caught in a standoff between protesters and some foreign nationals, both groups are armed with sticks, bricks and knives.
Meanwhile, President Jacob Zuma has condemned the recent attacks and is calling for calm.
“The security ministers briefed me about recent incidents of violence and destruction of property as well as rumours of impending violence directed at non-nationals circulating on social media,” Zuma said in an official statement.
“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,” he continued.
“Let us isolate those who commit such crimes and work with government to have them arrested, without stereotyping and causing harm to innocent people.
“In particular, government requests communities to assist the police with information relating to complaints that some non-nationals may be involved in selling drugs, human trafficking and other serious crimes.
“This will enable law enforcement agencies to act against such lawlessness regardless of the place of origin of the perpetrators.”
Recent attacks in Pretoria targeted, among others, Nigerians, prompting the Nigerian government to call on the African Union, AU, to intervene and protect foreign nationals living in South Africa.
The attacks sparked rallies in Abuja, where the offices of South African mobile giant MTN were shut down on Thursday after being targeted by angry protesters.
South Africa has witnessed a rise in xenophobic attacks in the past few years.
In 2016, locals looted shops owned by foreigners in the Dunoon township in Cape Town. The attacks prompted people to flee.
In October 2015, at least 500 people – mainly Zimbabweans, Somalis, Nigerians and Pakistanis – fled their homes in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape after a surge of xenophobic violence in the area.
Earlier in 2015, South Africans targeted foreigners accusing them of stealing jobs and opportunities in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province. At least five people were killed and thousands displaced, prompting the country to deploy its army to help police curb the violence.
The deployment followed the fatal stabbing of immigrant Emmanuel Sithole. Pictures of him pleading for his life before being killed were published by local newspapers, provoking anger.