Police have arrested scores of people in South Africa’s commercial capital, Johannesburg, after protesters looted what appeared to be foreigner-owned shops and set fire to cars and buildings.
At least 70 people were arrested, the police said in a statement on Monday, in the second outbreak of urban rioting in a week.
Hundreds of people marched in Johannesburg’s Central Business District (CBD) earlier in the day, demanding foreigners leave, according to local news agency News 24.
They targeted “shops they believed to be owned by foreign nationals”, the news website reported.
Police fired rubber bullets at looters as burned cars were stranded on the roads.
“Police are condemning all acts of violence directed at the businesses and the looting of shops described as those of foreign nationals by criminal opportunists,” the office of the provincial commissioner said in a statement on Facebook.
Police also said they were investigating a death in Hillbrow, a residential neighbourhood in central Johannesburg, where a “member of the public” was allegedly shot by a group.
“At this stage [we] are still interviewing several people to establish the motive,” it said
Officials dismissed reports that the ongoing attacks were xenophobic.
“Xenophobia is just an excuse that is being used by people to commit criminal acts,” Police Minister Bheki Cele told reporters on Monday afternoon. “It is not xenophobia, but pure criminality.”
In a statement on Monday, the South African Human Rights Commission said it was “deeply concerned by violence, looting, arson and vandalism plaguing much of Johannesburg.”
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama reacted strongly to the scenes of violence on Monday.
“Received sickening and depressing news of continued burning and looting of Nigerian shops and premises in #SouthAfrica by mindless criminals with ineffective police protection,” he said on Twitter. “Enough is enough. We will take definitive measures.”
In 2015, Nigeria had recalled its ambassador to South Africa following a spate of attacks against immigrants. — Al Jazeera