South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told officials and business leaders he was committed to quelling attacks on foreigners threatening to cast a cloud over an economic forum aimed at boosting intra-African trade.
Police arrested almost 300 people and confirmed five deaths after riots in Johannesburg and Pretoria with roving groups attacking shops mainly owned by African migrants.
It is unclear what ignited the violence, but analysts say contributing factors include high unemployment and frustration with limited economic opportunities.
African countries from Ghana to Ethiopia and regional bloc the African Union called on Ramaphosa to take action. Artists and citizens from across the continent voiced anger on social media, with some threatening retaliation.
Gauteng police spokesman, Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, said they were “experiencing a dramatic decline in public violence and looting” as people arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attacks on foreigners increased to 289 since Sunday.
“Taking action against people from other nations is not justified and should never be allowed in our beautiful country. We need to quell those incidents,” Ramaphosa told an event on the side-lines of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Africa three-day summit.
“South Africa must be a country where everyone feels safe, including women and foreign nationals,” Ramaphosa said, condemning incidents where women were killed.
Zimbabwe’s foreign minister, part of a large Zimbabwean government contingent including President Emmerson Mnangagwa, said the attacks were “unfortunate”.