South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Saturday cancelled a state visit to Indonesia to deal with a wave of anti-immigrant violence at home and promised peace to those who wished to remain in Africa’s most advanced economy.
The unrest which began in the port city Durban two weeks ago and spread to Johannesburg, Africa’s economic hub, appeared to have died down on Saturday as police patrolled trouble spots.
“We are certainly going to stop the violence,” Zuma told hundreds of displaced African immigrants at a camp in Chatsworth, south of Durban, in a speech televised on eNCA.
“Those who want to go home, when the violence stops you are welcome to return,” he said, addressing immigrants who planned to board buses provided by their governments to take them back to their countries.
Thousands of foreigners have sought refuge in camps set up in Johannesburg and Durban and the governments of Zimbabwe and Malawi began bussing their nationals back home.
Violence flared after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini said in remarks widely reported by South African media in March that foreigners should leave the country.
He has since said his comments were misinterpreted and on Saturday attempted to defuse tensions.
“Anyone who is waiting for an order from Zwelithini to attack people, no. No,” eNCA reported the king as saying during a traditional ceremony in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
At least four people have been killed in the violence over the last fortnight and foreign nationals have complained that the South African police are failing to protect them.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Saturday expressed shock and disgust at the attacks on immigrants.
“I would want now to express our sense of shock, disgust as we abhor the incidences which happened in Durban,” said Mugabe, speaking on behalf of the regional Southern African Development Community and African Union, both of which he currently chairs.