South African police have arrested 136 people as anti-foreigner protesters clashed with African immigrants in the capital on Friday.
The acting police chief Khomotso Phahlane said the arrests had been made during the past 24 hours, but did not disclose how many were South Africans and how many foreigners, according to News 24.
In Pretoria, a march organized by a group calling itself the Mamelodi Concerned Residents escalated into a tense confrontation between protesters and foreigners, some of whom carried rocks, sticks and machetes, which they said was to protect their property.
South African police used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators on both sides, according to Reuters. Video footage from the protests showed angry South Africans chanting and calling for African immigrants to be sent home.
The protest comes in the wake of a wave of xenophobic attacks in South Africa. In recent weeks, foreign-owned businesses and residential buildings occupied by foreigners have been attacked and looted. Protesters have accused African immigrants—including Nigerians and Somalis—of being involved in crime, including the drug and sex trades.
The incidents have prompted an angry response in Nigeria; protesters in the Nigerian capital Abuja attacked the offices of South African telecoms firm MTN Thursday, reportedly looting and stealing phones and iPads.
More than a quarter of the South African population is unemployed, and protesters have blamed foreigners for taking local jobs. The founder of a new anti-immigrant political party called South African First, Mario Khumalo, told news site Times Live that more than 13 million foreign nationals were living in South Africa.
But South Africa’s last census in 2011 estimated that only 2.2 million people born outside the country were living there, according to fact-checking site Africa Check. The United Nations put the number of foreign migrants living in South Africa at 3.1 million in 2015.
South African President Jacob Zuma denounced the violence against foreigners in a statement on Friday. “It is wrong to brandish all non-nationals as drug dealers or human traffickers. Let us isolate those who commit such crimes and work with government to have them arrested, without stereotyping and causing harm to innocent people,” said Zuma.
The country’s interior minister, Malusi Gigaba, told South Africa’s Parliament on Thursday that authorities would crack down on the employment of illegal migrants by local businesses. South African labor law requires 60 percent of a company's employees to be South African or permanent residents of the country.
South Africa has experienced periodic outbreaks of xenophobic violence in recent years. In 2015, at least five people were killed in attacks on African and international migrants in Pretoria and Johannesburg, while properties and businesses owned by foreigners were looted and torched.