Foreign nationals have complained that the South African police are failing to protect them, raising the prospect of a row between Pretoria and its neighbours, as well as stirring hostility to South Africans working abroad.
Violence flared days after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini said in remarks reported by local media that foreigners should leave South Africa. He has since said his comments were misinterpreted.
On Thursday President Zuma condemned the recent xenophobic attacks as “shocking”. “No amount of frustration or anger can justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” he added.
The attacks were also condemned on Saturday by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe: “I would want now to express our sense of shock, disgust as we abhor the incidences which happened in Durban. The act of treating other Africans in that horrible way can never be condoned by anyone.”
South Africa, with a population of about 50 million, is home to an estimated 5 million immigrants, from countries including Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, and from further afield, including China and Pakistan. Many own shops or sell wares as informal hawkers on street corners or in markets.
Periodic outbreaks of anti-immigrant violence have been blamed on high unemployment, officially around 25 per cent although economists say in reality much higher, widespread poverty and glaring income disparities.