Violence broke out in Pretoria CBD last week, when taxi drivers took to the streets, in reaction to the news of the death of a fellow driver who was allegedly killed by Nigerian drug dealers.
While the allegations surrounding the death of the taxi driver are the subject of an ongoing police investigation and have yet to be verified by forensic evidence, locals took the fight to the doorstep of foreign-owned shops across the province, calling on them to leave the country.
The situation intensified between foreign nationals and locals in most parts of Gauteng, as looting and violence spread across several neighbourhoods in the major cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg. It followed a spate of overnight attacks which appeared to target foreign-owned shops.
At least 50 shops were looted and burned in the southern Johannesburg suburbs of Malvern and Jeppestown. Police fired rubber bullets at looters as burnt cars were stranded on the roads.
Bheki Cele, South African Police Minister said: “For me, it’s pure criminality, people looting and all that, and using that as xenophobia. But for now there is nothing that has sparked any form of conflict between South Africans and foreign nationals.
“We dealing with criminality rather than xenophobia at the present moment,” he added.
Monday’s violence followed similar incidents in Pretoria last week, in which protests led by taxi drivers saw several foreign-owned shops looted and torched.
At least 100 people have been arrested by the South African Police Service (SAPS) in connection with the violent attacks targeting foreigners over the past days. Such violence breaks out sporadically in South Africa, where many nationals blame foreigners for high unemployment, particularly in manual labor.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, took to his Twitter account (@GeoffreyOnyeama) on Monday to condemn the attacks on Nigerians living in South Africa.
"Received sickening and depressing news of continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops and premises in South Africa by mindless criminals with ineffective police protection. Enough is enough. We will take definitive measures," he posted.
Prior to 1994, immigrants from elsewhere faced discrimination and even violence in South Africa. After majority rule in 1994, contrary to expectations, the incidence of xenophobia increased. Between 2000 and March 2008, at least 67 people died in what were identified as xenophobic attacks.