South African authorities are cracking down on the perpetrators of a series of xenophobic attacks that left at least 12 people dead, Police Minister Bheki Cele said.
The police arrested 639 people so far, Cele told reporters in Johannesburg, the nation’s economic hub where unrest flared again a day earlier. He conceded there was “anti-foreign sentiment” within the country.
The clashes began after a South African taxi driver was allegedly shot dead by a suspected Nigerian drug dealer in the capital, Pretoria. Scores of foreign-owned shops were looted and torched in the ensuing violence. The attacks spread to Johannesburg last week, leaving 10 people dead and more than 50 shops and several vehicles destroyed.
After a brief lull, the violence resumed in Johannesburg on Sunday. Police used stun grenades and rubber bullets to battle protesters armed with knives and sticks seeking to drive African migrants out of the city. At least two more people died. Calm had been restored by Monday morning, according to the police.
South Africa has Africa’s most-industrialised economy and attracts many residents of poorer nations on the continent who relocate in search of a better life. Their increased prevalence in several poor areas has sparked resentment among locals, who see them as competitors for jobs, business opportunities and affordable housing. The country has seen sporadic attacks on migrants, including Nigerians and Sudanese, the worst of which occurred in 2008 when about 60 people were killed and more than 50,000 forced from their homes.
Nigeria will begin evacuating some of its citizens who’ve asked to leave South Africa to escape the violence, Punch newspaper reported.