The government called for calm as homes were burned and shops were looted in a wave of xenophobic violence.

South African hostel dwellers demonstrate against foreigners in Johannesburg in April 17, 2015.
South African hostel dwellers demonstrate against foreigners in Johannesburg in April 17, 2015. (TRT World and Agencies)

The South African government, which is struggling to quell a wave of xenophobic violence, called for calm on Thursday after dozens of shops and houses owned by immigrants were torched and looted.

"I wish to appeal to all South Africans to desist from rhetoric or actions that are xenophobic," Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba told a press conference.

"There are renewed incidents of violence against foreign nationals in Rosettenville and Pretoria West," he admitted, blaming a lack of jobs and alleged "drug peddling and prostitution" involving foreigners.

In the last week, more than 20 shops have been targeted in Atteridgeville, outside Pretoria, while residents in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg, attacked at least 12 houses.

Many locals have alleged that the targets were brothels and drug dens being run by migrants from elsewhere in Africa, including Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Some residents have planned a march protesting against migrants is due to be held in Pretoria on February 24, raising fears of violence in the city centre .

Crime and violence

Attacks against foreigners and foreign-run businesses have erupted regularly in recent years in South Africa, fuelled by the country's high unemployment and poverty levels.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Wednesday that 35 percent of the labour force was unemployed or has given up looking for work.

In 2008, South Africa experienced its worst bout of xenophobic violence, which left 62 people dead.

At least seven people died in similar unrest in Johannesburg and Durban in 2015 as African immigrants were hunted down and attacked by gangs.​

Nigeria expresses concerns

Nigeria's Foreign Ministry summoned South Africa's envoy to raise its concerns over "xenophobic attacks" on Nigerians, other Africans and Pakistanis.

Nigeria's junior Foreign Minister Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim said the South African high commissioner was "informed of (the) government's concerns on the situation" and asked to ensure action was taken.

"The Federal Government of Nigeria strongly urges the South African Government to take all necessary measures to protect the lives and property of foreigners living and working in South Africa," she said in a statement.

Also, the Nigerian government this week called upon the African Union to take action against "xenophobic attacks" on its citizens in South Africa, claiming 20 Nigerians were killed last year.

But South African authorities dismiss the claim, saying many violent deaths in the country are due to criminal activity rather than anti-immigrant sentiment.

In the Nigerian capital Abuja, about 100 people gathered outside the offices of two South African companies protested against the violence.

The UN's International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has said it was "very concerned" about the march on Friday.

"We condemn the attacks, looting and burning of property owned by foreign nationals and call on citizens to refrain from... taking the law into their own hands," it said.

There is no evidence that foreign nationals are responsible for the rise in crime and unemployment.

Gigaba said that South African authorities were in talks with organisers of the Friday's march.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies