South African Interior Minister Malusi Gigaba on Thursday called for calm after a series of violent incidents against immigrants that revived the specter of the deadly xenophobic riots of 2008 and 2015.
For two weeks, several buildings occupied by foreigners and suspected of housing brothels or drug trafficking have been burned by angry residents in Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria.
The incidents did not cause any casualties, but led police to reinforce its presence and make multiple arrests.
“I want to call on all South Africans to distance themselves from rhetoric or xenophobic actions,” Gigaba told a press conference on Thursday.
The outbreaks of anti-immigrant violence are recurring in South Africa. The country welcomes several million foreigners who are often accused, in a context of high unemployment, of stealing the work of the local population and feeding crime.
A group of residents of a neighborhood in Johannesburg has scheduled a march on Friday at the Interior Ministry to denounce “the government that gives work to Zimbabweans and other foreigners.”
“We are working with them to ensure that there will be no violence, no threats,” Gigaba said.
The minister also promised to “respond to the concerns” of the organizers and to enforce the laws on entry into South African territory and employment.
Many NGOs helping foreigners have asked Gigaba to ban the Friday demonstration, which they say “can only reinforce xenophobic attitudes and attacks.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) condemned the recent attacks and said there was “no evidence that foreigners are responsible for rising crime and unemployment”.
Nigeria, whose citizens have been questioned in recent days, expressed its “deep concern” on Wednesday and demanded measures to protect its nationals.
In 2015, 7 people died in riots and looting of businesses run by foreigners in Johannesburg and in Durban.
South Africa suffered the most deadly wave of xenophobic violence in 2008 that left 62 people dead.