The violence, looting and targeting of foreigners that left a trail of despair and destruction in Johannesburg, the economic powerhouse of SA, has left the country in a “state of shock”.
At least two people have died, businesses were reduced to ashes and foreign citizens forced to flee to safety since the violence erupted on Sunday and spread like wildfire.
The chaos has been widely condemned and drew sharp criticism from other countries on the continent. It also made world headlines.
“The violent acts, burning and looting of business premises in the city centres and townships in Gauteng have left the country in a state of shock that things can degenerate to a point of such violence without us attending to the various underlying and causal issues,” said Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the SA Council of Churches.
“The issues of competition for scarce employment opportunities and the belief that foreign Africans in particular are part of the problem is at the core of these protests. There should be no room for criminal acts of violence against people and properties. Such acts must be condemned everywhere without equivocation.”
Mpumlwana said that messages were circulating on social media calling on South Africans to stop Africans from other countries from entering their homes and places of work. Messages also called for trucks to be halted. In return there were threats of retaliatory action against South African truck drivers.
“South Africans will be attacked wherever they go in whatever capacity,” he warned. “South African churches like the Zion Christian Church, the Methodist Church and others have no borders, they are in all neighbouring countries,” he said.
“SA church members will be bused to other countries for their conventions. Are we ready for a trans-border conflict? We think not. That, is a no-win conflict.”
Gauteng premier David Makhura said on Tuesday: “I condemn in the strongest of terms all acts of criminality and lawlessness that brought some areas of our province to a standstill due to the looting of shops and torching of buildings as well as the closure of some roads.
“We live in a law-governed society and any act of criminality shall be dealt with decisively and swiftly, regardless of nationality.”
He said no South African or foreign national would be allowed to take the law into their own hands. “I will not hesitate to ask for further reinforcement from the defence Force should the police need such support,” he added.
The SA Human Rights Commission said in a statement that it was “inexcusable for anyone to be subject to the violence so many communities are experiencing”.
The government of Nigeria said in a tweet: “The continuing attacks on Nigerian nationals and businesses in South Africa are unacceptable. Enough is enough.”
Reports of the looting and mayhem have been circulating globally. The BBC quoted police minister Bheki Cele as saying that “criminality rather than xenophobia” was to blame for the “senseless violence”.