Police and the governing African National Congress party in South Africa stepped up efforts Tuesday to quell a wave of violent attacks against foreigners that have left 24 people dead in recent days.
Migrant workers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and other African countries are being targeted by mobs wielding machetes and clubs, police say. The attacks are fuelled by a wave of resentment against foreign workers whom locals believe are taking scarce jobs away from native-born South Africans.
President Thabo Mbeki has condemned the violence as "shameful and criminal" and directed police to take stern action.
Armed police are deployed in the affected areas, and migrants are being offered shelter and protection in police stations.
Mbeki is being criticized for not doing enough to prevent economic collapse in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where at least 60 per cent of the five million migrant workers in South Africa originate.
South Africa Tourism Minister Marthinius van Schalkwyk warned that the attacks could do even more harm to an economy already suffering from high unemployment by frightening away African tourists.
"Africans increasingly travel to South Africa as a holiday destination," van Schalkwyk said Tuesday, "and these attacks have the potential to certainly impact negatively on that market."
'A war zone'
Aid workers trying to help victims and get migrant workers under police protection are themselves coming under attack.
One of them, Imetus Soloman, spent the past three days dodging rubber bullets fired by riot police at rampaging mobs. He was trying to distribute food and water to besieged migrant families.
"It went crazy," Soloman said of his visit to the vast, largely black townships around Johannesburg, "When we went into the area, it was like a war zone. Police all over, fighting and shooting and all kinds of things."
A fruit seller who came from Burundi to South Africa said even before the attacks he felt threatened and barely made enough money to survive.
"We run from our country because of the war," he said, "Now here we are in South Africa. We thought it was a peace place to be, but it's not."
CBC's Bruce Edwards, who is in Johannesburg, said it's the worst violence in the country since the end of apartheid.
"Millions of immigrants, most from poor neighbouring countries, come here seeking a better life," Edwards said, "but with half of the country's own population still living in abject poverty, and the resources scarce, many fear this … may still get worse."