Foreign nationals gesture after clashes broke out between a group of locals and police in Durban on April 14, 2015
Johannesburg (AFP) - Thousands of people marched through the South African city of Durban on Thursday to protest against anti-immigrant violence that has left six people dead and spread to the economic capital Johannesburg.
Foreign-owned shops in the Jeppestown area of Johannesburg were attacked overnight, the police said as they called for calm over fears that the attacks could trigger widespread unrest fuelled by the country's economic troubles.
In the past two weeks, shops and homes owned by Somalis, Ethiopians, Malawians and other immigrants in Durban and surrounding townships have been targeted, forcing families to flee to camps protected by armed guards.
About 4,000 people marched through Durban, chanting "Down with xenophobia!" and "A United Africa" at an event attended by residents, students and local religious and political leaders.
Police vowed to quell the wave of violence, which claimed its latest victim on Monday when a 14-year-old boy was killed in KwaMashu, a township north of Durban.
"There are tensions in various parts of the country between some locals and foreign nationals (but) lawlessness will not be tolerated," National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega said in a statement.
"Overnight, there was a flare-up of violent attacks and looting in Jeppestown, Johannesburg," she added.
"Six male suspects have been arrested for public violence and housebreaking. The suspects allegedly broke into foreigners' shops."
Police, who also reported tensions in Pietermaritzburg city, called for community leaders to help reduce tensions and added that false rumours of attacks were increasing fear.
- Job shortage -
Earlier this year, xenophobic violence erupted in Soweto, near Johannesburg, as frustration deepens over lack of opportunities for many young blacks born since the end of apartheid in 1994.
South Africa's economic growth was just 1.5 percent last year and unemployment is at around 25 percent -- soaring to over 50 percent among the young.
Violence against immigrants in South Africa is common, with unemployed locals accusing foreigners of taking their jobs.
In 2008, 62 people were killed in similar violence in Johannesburg townships.
One of the marchers in Durban, Eric Machi, 34, said he rented rooms to Zimbabweans and Malawians until they fled from attackers in recent weeks.
"We are trying to make peace with those people who came here from Africa, but now they are gone," he said.
"It started late at night. The attackers were shouting and throwing stones, and breaking some houses."
The marchers were escorted by a heavy police escort, but the march began peacefully.
President Jacob Zuma condemned the attacks and admitted the government had been slow to tackle some issues behind the violence.
"This now must stop, because we cannot continue killing one another," Zuma said in a public radio and television address late Wednesday.
"We cannot accept that when there are challenges, we then use violence, particularly to our brothers and sisters from the continent."
He added that "perhaps as (a) government we have not been very quick in addressing these issues."
Zuma is set to make a further statement to parliament later Thursday on the attacks.
"Anytime (it) can happen now," said Ali Abdi, a Somalian who runs a clothes shop but is now sleeping in a camp in Durban.
"There is not just one reason. Some of it is foreigner hatred, especially against African foreigners. The other reason would be jealousy."
Many shops in the centre of Johannesburg were shut on Wednesday and Thursday after threats spread via social networks and phone text messages.