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South Africa President Zuma calls on foreigners to stay despite xenophobic violence

After two weeks of xenophobic protest, South Africa's president has appealed to foreigners to stay in the country. He also urged churches to pray for peace and friendship.

President Jacob Zuma canceled a state visit to Indonesia in order to deal with the ongoing violence and protests in South Africa. On Saturday he visited Chatsworth camp, south of Durban, and handed over a 50,000 rand ($4,100) cheque for victims of xenophobic violence.

"We are certainly going to stop the violence," Zuma told hundreds of displaced African immigrants at the camp in a speech which was broadcast on the eNCA 24-hour news channel.

Zuma talked to some immigrants who planned to get on buses provided by their governments, including from Zimbabwe and Malawi, to take them to their home nations. He said: "Those who want to go home, when the violence stops you are welcome to return."

Reprisals against South Africans in neighboring countries have also affected South African businesses. Energy giant Sasol repatriated 340 South African staff members from its Mozambican operations on Friday, over fears for their safety.

The violence began after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, in March, was widely reported by media to have said that foreigners should leave the country. He has since said his comments were misinterpreted. eNCA reported the king as saying during a traditional ceremony on Saturday: "Anyone who is waiting for an order from Zwelithini to attack people, no. No."

Tensions

Comments from some government ministers did little to calm tensions. Before the violence broke out, Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyan was reported by the AfricaCheck website as saying that in Kagiso, a township to the west of Johannesburg: "Almost every second outlet or even former general dealer shops are run by people of Somali or Pakistani origin ... I am not xenophobic fellow comrades and friends but this is a recipe for disaster."

Similarly, last week, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu told Business Day that "foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost.."

At least four people have died as a result of the violence in the last two weeks. On Saturday, a Mozambique national, identified as Emmanuel Sithole, died of his injuries after he was attacked by men during anti-immigrant violence in Alexandra.

Some foreign nationals have complained that South African police are failing to protect them.

jm/bk (AFP, Reuters)

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