South Africa faces backlash after xenophobic attacks

Johannesburg: South Africa said on Thursday it had temporarily closed its diplomatic missions in Nigeria as the country came under fire for a wave of attacks on foreign-owned stores.
Seven people were killed and dozens of shops destroyed in xenophobic violence in and around Johannesburg this week, triggering angry demonstrations in several African countries.
Foreign workers are often victims of anti-immigrant sentiment in South Africa — the continent’s second biggest economy — where they compete against locals for jobs, particularly in low-skilled industries.
African nations have appealed for calm, while urging their nationals in South Africa to exercise caution.
Nigeria, the source of many of the workers in South Africa, has stepped up security after apparent reprisal attacks, while violence also flared in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday.
In Nigeria, South Africa’s embassy in the capital Abuja and consulate in the economic hub of Lagos were shut on Wednesday.
“After receiving reports and threats from some of the Nigerians we decided to temporarily close while we are assessing the situation,” South African foreign ministry spokesman Lunga Ngqengelele said.
Ngqengelelee said the decision was made to protect employees after groups of people tried to force their way into the Lagos mission.
“We will be monitoring the situation,” he said. “When we see it necessary to open, we will reopen’’.
South African telecoms giant MTN temporarily closed its Nigeria outlets on Wednesday after protesters attacked South African-owned firms in a number of cities.
And in another outbreak on Thursday, angry crowds in DR Congo’s second largest city Lubumbashi smashed the windows of the South African consulate and looted South African-owned stores.
President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the violence, but acknowledged: “We face a huge challenge’’.
“Taking action against people of other countries is not right,” he said. “South Africa is home for all. We are not the only country that has become home for people fleeing’’.
The nationality of the victims has not yet been determined.
The violence in South Africa had largely fizzled out Wednesday with only a handful of looting incidents reported by police, mainly targeting shopping centres.
A group of residents late Wednesday confronted a mob caught breaking into a local retail store in the northern township of Katlehong.
“We are happy that the law abiding members of the community are becoming frustrated about these criminals who are targeting businesses in their areas,” provincial commissioner Elias Mawela said in a statement on Thursday.
More than 420 people have been arrested since Sunday. — AFP