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Xenophopia: Nigeria demands protection for citizens

South Africa has been hit by an outbreak of xenophobic violence in its biggest city, attracting criticism from other African nations in the week political and business leaders from at least 28 countries gather in Cape Town.

A spate of violence that broke out in suburbs south of Johannesburg’s city centre on Sunday and spread to the central business district on Monday saw the destruction of more than 50 mainly foreign-owned shops and business premises. Cars and properties were torched and widespread looting took place.

The attacks come ahead of the beginning of the African edition of the World Economic Forum in Cape Town on Sept. 4 and before a state visit to South Africa by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, a country whose nationals have been affected, next month.

“The continuing attacks on Nigerian nationals and businesses in South Africa are unacceptable,” the government of Nigeria said on Twitter. “Enough is enough. Nigeria will take definitive measures to ensure safety and protection of her citizens.”

The violence echoes sporadic outbreaks of attacks mainly targeting migrants from other African countries in some of South Africa’s poorest areas. In 2008 about 60 people were killed and over 50,000 forced from their homes and in 2015 seven people died in violence. Migrants are seen as competition for scarce jobs and government services.

Other Nigerian politicians, including former presidential election candidate Oby Ezekwesili called for stronger intervention by the government.

Zambia warned its truck drivers, many of whom drive goods south to the South African port of Durban, to stay out of the country.

Mr Vusumuzi Sibanda, who heads the African Diaspora Forum set up in response to earlier xenophobic attacks, blamed some politicians for allowing resentment to build between communities.

He criticised the language used by Johannesburg’s Mayor, Herman Mashaba, when talking about undocumented migrants.

‘‘He says the migrants are the ones causing his administration to fail. At one stage he said that we are selling cow heads, that they are bringing Ebola into the country.’’

‘‘When people are attacking migrants they are hiding behind words, like migrants are criminals – selling drugs or human trafficking, and yet there is nothing exactly that can be pinned on migrants.’’

The violence is “unacceptable,” Ace Magashule, the secretary-general of the ANC, said in remarks broadcast on television.

“We condemn this violence which is taking place, irrespective of whatever reasons people want to give,” he said.

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