South African authorities have struggled to contain mobs in the economic capital Johannesburg and Durban who have been hunting down foreigners. At least seven people have been killed and 307 suspects arrested in three weeks of unrest, the worst ethnic violence since 2008, when 62 people died, mainly in Johannesburg’s townships.
“We have joined the South African government and civil society leaders in strongly condemning the violence against foreigners that’s been taking place,” said State Department acting spokeswoman Marie Harf. She said the US was “deeply concerned” about the loss of lives and the impact on communities.
President Jacob Zuma pleaded Saturday with foreigners to stay in South Africa as he cancelled a state visit to Indonesia. And Harf welcomed his statements. “We have appealed to all South African leaders to take a stand and make very clear how they condemn these kinds of sentiments and violence,” she told reporters.
Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini denied whipping up the wave of xenophobia in an angry speech last month blaming immigrants for rising crime and saying they must leave the country.
The US ambassador to Pretoria, Patrick Gaspard, also condemned the violence last week. “The US government has long recognized the challenges posed by an influx of migrants and refugees throughout southern Africa and provides various forms of assistance in South Africa,” Gaspard said.
“As an immigrant to my own country, my heart goes out to those who have been attacked for being different.”