South African police arrested more than 80 people and confirmed five deaths as riots in Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria intensified on Tuesday, spreading to surrounding townships with roving groups attacking mainly foreign-owned shops.
The streets of Alexandra township, at walking distance from the skyscrapers of Johannesburg’s financial centre Sandton, were littered on Tuesday afternoon with broken bricks and glass from buildings torched in overnight fires and debris from police battles with local groups.
An Ethiopian shop owner, Abushe Dastaa, pointed to bare shelves and an empty fridge and told Reuters TV his entire shop had been emptied and vandalised overnight.
“Even now we are scared to come this side,” he said. His store sells items like bread, milk and phone cards in the working class neighbourhood, which is regularly rattled by unrest and protests over poor living conditions and jobs.
The latest wave of unrest in South Africa has raised fears of a recurrence of violence aimed at foreigners in 2015 in which at least seven people were killed. Before that, some 60 people were killed in a wave of unrest around the country in 2008.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said on Tuesday he was urgently sending a special envoy to meet with President Cyril Ramaphosa to secure the “safety of (Nigerian citizens’) lives and property”.
Police have yet to pinpoint what triggered the violence, which began on Sunday when protesters armed with makeshift weapons roamed the streets of Pretoria’s business district pelting shops with rocks and petrol bombs and running off with goods.