S.African leader condemns Johannesburg violence after two killed

Some businesses were burned down in Johannesburg's Malvern area as part of the violence on Sunday (AFP Photo/Michele Spatari)

Johannesburg (AFP) - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday condemned weekend violence in Johannesburg that claimed two lives after security forces clashed with looters involved in fresh xenophobic attacks.

At least 10 people have been killed since the start of the month in a surge in attacks targeting foreign-owned businesses in and around South Africa's largest city.

Ramaphosa "has condemned in the strongest terms a resurgence in public violence that claimed two lives in Johannesburg yesterday," the presidency said in a statement.

The violence especially sparked reprisals against South African firms in Nigeria and the temporary closing of South Africa's diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja.

In a statement, the Nigerian president's office Monday gave "instructions for the immediate voluntary evacuation of all Nigerians who are willing to return home."

The Nigerian Consul General in Johannesburg, Godwin Adamu, told AFP that his government would repatriate about 600 citizens from South Africa this week.

"They are about 600 now" to be flown back, said Adamu, A first flight will carry 320 Nigerians, he said, adding: "We will have another one immediately after that."

More than 100,000 Nigerians are estimated to live in South Africa, Adamu said.

- Foreign workers often targeted -

Foreign workers in South Africa -- the continent's second largest economy after Nigeria -- are often victims of anti-immigrant sentiment in a nation where almost one in three people are unemployed.

Riot police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets on Sunday to disperse crowds targeting shops in Johannesburg's gritty central business district and other neighbourhoods.

One person was stabbed and another shot dead in an incident involving a large group of armed attackers, it said.

Many shops remained closed on Monday morning in the central business district, an AFP reporter said. Shops were set alight and burned on Sunday in the neighbouring Malvern district.

Officials said most of the ten people killed since last week were South Africans. Local residents say at least one of those was killed when a shop owner defended their property.

South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from Lesotho, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe while others come from Nigeria and as far as South Asia looking for work in the continent's number two economy.

Immigrants are often the focus for anger among South Africans hit by chronic job shortages and the limited progress made by the majority black population since white-minority rule ended in 1994.

The violence strained relations between South Africa and Nigeria, which summoned Pretoria's envoy and boycotted an economic summit in Cape Town in protest.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will visit South Africa in October to discuss responses to "challenges affecting people and businesses" in both countries.

A Nigerian presidency statement said Monday "President Ramaphosa agreed that the violence was most disconcerting and embarrassing."

The attacks "undermine not only the country’s image but also its relations with brotherly African countries," it added.