Police in South Africa have used rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas to scatter people clashing at rival rallies by locals and refugees.
Hundreds of nationals and non-nationals were rallying in separate marches in the capital, Pretoria, on Friday. Police forces had formed lines to keep the two crowds apart. Clashes erupted nevertheless.
The refugees were from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Somalia, and Pakistan.
Violence has emerged against refuges in South Africa in recent weeks. Locals have looted and torched houses and shops belonging to the refugees.
President Jacob Zuma said in a statement on Friday that there had been “threats of violence and acts of intimidation and destruction of property directed at non-nationals.”
“Residents in some communities blame non-nationals for the escalating crimes especially drug trafficking,” the president said, calling on South Africans not to blame migrants for the country’s widespread crime problems, but said the government would crack down on drug-dealing and illegal immigrants.
According to reports, local citizens targeted more than 20 shops in Atteridgeville, outside Pretoria, over the last week. Residents in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, also attacked at least 12 houses.
“We have decided to not to leave the house [during the anti-migrant march],” said Alain Bome, 47, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who has been in South Africa for 14 years. “We know very well there have been attacks. We are scared because we know South Africans.”
The rise in violence prompted the Nigerian government this week to call for the African Union to step in to stop the “xenophobic attacks” on its citizens in South Africa. Nigeria says at least 20 of its nationals were killed in South Africa last year.
South African authorities, however, rejected the number, saying many violent deaths in the country had occurred due to victims’ own criminal activity.
South Africans blame refugees for the country’s near-record unemployment, accusing them of taking jobs from citizens and engaging in crimes.