- Anti-immigrant protests have been ongoing in South Africa for two weeks and at least five people have been killed
- Foreign nationals have been loading trucks with their wares as they flee Johannesburg and neighbouring towns
- Protesters are angry about foreigners in the country when unemployment is high and wealth isn't distributed equally
- Immigrants wielding machetes have clashed with police as they hunt for locals that targeted foreign shop owners
Police battled to contain a wave of violence in South Africa last night as gangs of migrants armed themselves with machetes to fight off anti-foreigner attacks by locals.
Five people have died since vigilantes started looting and attacking shops owned by immigrants, mainly from other parts of Africa.
Police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets as immigrant gangs confronted the vigilantes, and last night in parts of Johannesburg officers formed a human barrier to keep the two sides apart.
More than 200 immigrants had to take refuge in a police station and dozens of businesses were closed when trouble spread just a day after a rally against xenophobia in Durban.
Immigrants have complained about a lack of protection from the authorities and some have started arming themselves to fight back.
Eyewitnesses have claimed that the vigilante violence is carefully orchestrated and that minibuses have been ferrying men armed with knives and machetes around suburbs.
In the past two weeks, shops and homes owned by Somalis, Ethiopians, Malawians and other migrants have been targeted, forcing more than 2,000 to flee to camps protected by armed guards.
In Johannesburg, Malawian immigrant Samuel Idrssa described how his friend was stabbed and set on fire by a mob.
‘We wanted to rescue him but there were too many of them,’ he said. ‘It was shocking.’
He added: ‘We have all left our homes. Those affected are those of us who live in poor townships because we live with poor South Africans who do not have jobs.’
So far, five people are believed to have been killed in the violent protests which started two weeks ago in Durban, a key port on South Africa's Indian Ocean coast, spreading to Johannesburg.
Violence flared days after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini said in remarks reported by local media that foreigners should 'take their bags and go'.
In a recorded speech sent to a local broadcaster, he said: 'We must deal with our own lice' and complained about foreign-owned shops. He has since said his comments were misinterpreted.
Addressing parliament in Cape Town on Thursday, President Zuma reiterated his condemnation of the violence, calling it a 'violation' of South Africa's values.
'No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,' he said.
'We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms. The attacks violate all the values that South Africa embodies.'
He also said the government was taking steps to secure its porous borders and making progress in setting up a Border Management Agency, announced last year and scheduled to be up and running in 2016.
The ruling African National Congress party has condemned the attacks as 'shameful' and branded them 'criminal acts against vulnerable people'.
The US ambassador to South Africa, born in Zaire - now the Democratic Republic of the Congo - to Haitian parents, spoke in defence of the immigrants.
'As an immigrant to my own country, my heart goes out to those who have been attacked for being different,' Patrick H. Gaspard said.
The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, which campaigns for peace, warned: ‘The fabric of the nation is splitting at the seams; its precious nucleus – our moral core – is being ruptured.’
In the past two weeks, foreign nationals living near Johannesburg had to remove items from their shops and shut up their stores because of fears they could be targeted by protesters.
They fled after a mobile phone text message was apparently sent to shop owners, warning them to shut their premises, claiming that 'Zulu people are coming to town... to kill every foreigner on the road'.
Angry South Africans accuse immigrants of taking jobs in a country where unemployment and poverty levels are high - the official figure is 25 per cent but economists say, in reality, it is much higher.