The violence is now threatening to spread to other cities of the country. On Thursday Reuters reported police were shooting rubber bullet in an eastern suburb of Johannesburg to disperse a crowd of anti-immigrant protesters.
No violence or killing has been reported in the capital city yet, but threatening messages have been circulating on social media.
In January, similar attacks broke out against mainly Somali, Ethiopian and Pakistani shop-owners in Johannesburg townships after a 14-year old boy was shot dead by a Somali shop-owner. About six people were killed then.
Addressing the South African parliament on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma said he “Strongly condemned” the attacks on foreigners.
“We have the anger, we’re aware that people are frustrated, we are calling for calm in order to solve the problem,” Zuma told parliament.
In Durban, where the attacks began after a local supermarket fired locals and hired black immigrants, over 1,400 foreigners are estimated to have fled their homes and are being housed in protection camps. At least 74 people have been arrested in relation to the attacks, according to the police.
But why are only African immigrants being victimized?
According to an opinion piece by Sibusiso Tshabalala on Quartz, South African black associate the word “foreign” with other African immigrants, while white immigrants especially from Europe or America are “often lumped up with tourists, or even better, referred to as expats.”
“Many South Africans look at the attacks on enterprising African immigrants from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria and Malawi … and resolve that the current attacks on foreigners are more afrophobic, than xenophobic,” Tshabalala wrote.
The deep hatred and dislike of African immigrants by locals emanates for the notion that black immigrants are there to take jobs from the locals, leaving most of less educated South Africans unable to gain employment.
Calls for ‘Nationalism’ by a section of South African leaders has not helped in calming down the foreign-blood-thirsty youth, but only added its impetus.
“Strong nationalism requires a strong enemy. And who is the enemy?” Lucien van der Walt, professor of sociology at Rhodes University, told Mail & Guardian.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, which has over two million of its citizens living and working in South Africa to escape the economic hardships at home, said in a statement that South African’s were quick to kill fellow Africans but could not raise a hand against a white person.
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe expelled white settler farmers in the early 2000’s, an act that angered many western countries and led to stiff sanctions being leveled against the country, hurting its economy badly.
“South African’s will kick down a statue of dead white man but won’t even attempt to slap alive one. Yet they can stone to death a black man simply because he’s a foreigner,” Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe said in a statement.