Arrests made in Gauteng province following overnight street battles in downtown Johannesburg.
by Khadija Patel, Al Jazeera
Arrests have been made in South Africa as anti-immigrant violence spreads to parts of Johannesburg’s commercial heart.
In Gauteng province, of which Johannesburg is the capital city, police arrested 18 people after overnight street battles, Major-General Phumzo Gela, deputy police commissioner, said on Friday afternoon.
Earlier police fired rubber-coated steel bullets into a crowd of South Africans in Johannesburg’s Jeppestown area.
A crowd of South Africans carrying hammers and axes gathered near the city centre, chanting “Foreigners must leave.”
Groups of South Africans in Jeppestown and Cleveland blocked roads with rocks and burning tyres and then ordered foreigners to leave the country, police said.
Jeppestown and Cleveland are neighbourhoods adjoining the Johannesburg Central Business District (CBD).
— EWN Reporter (@ewnreporter) April 17, 2015
A number of shops in the CBD were reported to have been looted and vandalised, further escalating tensions between foreigners and South Africans in Johanneburg.
Police said the suspects were trying to break into shops owned by foreigners.
Colonel Dlamini, police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera calm had been restored, but refused to reveal whether police had received credible reports of further threats of violence against foreigners in the city.
Violence targeting immigrants started earlier in April in the port city of Durban, claiming the lives of six people so far.
Rumours of imminent attacks on foreigners have continued to affect foreign nationals in Johannesburg.
Ahmed Fifa, a 35-year-old shop owner in the Ramaphosa settlement east of Johannesburg, said foreign nationals were warned by locals to vacate the area on Thursday night.
“One of the community leaders came to us and told us to move all our stuff and save our lives,” he said.
According to Fifa, the South Africans in Ramaphosa are divided between those who seek to protect foreigners and those intent on violently driving foreigners out.
“I can’t go back until the situation remains stable,” Fifa said. “I have seen the pictures of what happened in Durban and I need to save my life.
“The only problem we have here is the xenophobia.”
In Durban, where six people have been killed in the last two weeks of violence against immigrants, police spokesperson Jay Naicker a fragile calm had been maintained on Friday.
“Overnight we had no reported incidents and it has been calm,” Naicker said, adding that the police had not received reports of further threats against immigrants in coastal city.
He said foreigners would still not be re-integrated into the affected communities.
“The area is still tense and the police and security deployment will remain for a while,” Naicker said.
Amir Sheikh, chairperson of the Somali Community Board based in Johannesburg, said the violence in Durban has inflamed tensions between South Africans and foreigners.
“Some of our members have been harassed in Johannesburg following the violence in Durban,” he said.
Late on Thursday a widely disseminated text message claimed that “a train of Zulus” had departed for Johannesburg.
“These men are armed and they are going to be killing any foreigner they meet tomorrow,” the text message said.
The source of these messages remains unclear, but their proliferation has sowed panic and confusion among migrant communities.
“Our members have been unable to go about their day-to-day businesses because each time they open their businesses, a new message is received saying members of a certain ethnic group are gathering to attack them,” Sheikh said.
While these rumours have so far, proven to be false, its effects have already been felt.
Foreign owned stores around Johannesburg have been closed for at least two days already.
“The unfounded rumours have caused more damage to our members than anything else,” Sheikh said.
On Thursday South African President Jacob Zuma and leaders of the opposition in parliament spoke out against the violence against foreign nationals.
Zuma said that the majority of South Africans were not xenophobic.
“We reiterate our view that South Africans are generally not xenophobic,” he said.
“If they were, we would not have such a high number of foreign nationals who have been successfully integrated into communities all over our country, in towns, cities and villages.”