AT least three people described as foreign nationals have been killed in a wave of xenophobic violence in the South African city of Durban.
South African police said they have arrested 17 people and opened murder cases after attacks on foreign nationals in Durban.
Residents looted shops owned by foreigners on Thursday, with one Somali shopkeeper now fighting for his life.
Hundreds of people from Malawi, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Congo have reportedly fled their homes in the past two weeks.
Police spokesperson Maj Thulani Zwane said police do not know exactly how many people have been killed, but that some were South African nationals and some were foreigners.
Zimbabweans in Durban said although the violence had eased, tensions remained high.
“Speaking in Shona is now an absolute no, no on the streets,” said one Zimbabwean who did not want to be named.
The rioting followed comments by Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulu ethnic group and figurehead of the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal, who criticised the presence of immigrants in South Africa.
Zwelithini later said his comments had been misinterpreted and that he had only criticised high crime levels, according to the broadcaster eNCA.
But Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has called on traditional leaders to stop making remarks that “could result in a loss of life”.
Warning to traditional leaders about xenophobic remarks … Minister Malusi Gigaba
At least 62 people died in xenophobic attacks that swept the country in 2008.
Following the alleged comments by King Zwelithini at the end of March, 250 people have been attacked, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and foreign-owned shops have been looted in the port city of Durban.
More than 1,000 mainly African migrants have fled their homes, some going to police stations and other are being housed in tents on a sports field.
South African President Jacob Zuma’s son, Edward, has come out in support of the Zulu king’s alleged comments.
“We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” he said, adding that foreigners were “taking over the country”.
Raphael Baheybwa-Kambambire, president of Congolese Solidarity campaign, told the BBC that religious leaders met with Zulu monarch on Thursday.
King Zwelithini told them he was talking “only about those who don’t have papers and documentation in South Africa”.
Gigaba said on Thursday evening that it was important not to incite violence.
“Africa in particular must not think that we hate fellow Africans so much that we are prepared to do the worst to cause them harm,” he said.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people marched in front of the Durban’s City Hall in protest against the xenophobic violence.
Durban-based journalist Jeff Wicks said it does not take much to stoke tensions.
Xenophobic violence flares up in townships where living conditions are poor for all those living there, irrespective of where they come from, he says.