South African police fired tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to break up rival marches by hundreds of protesters in Pretoria, after mobs looted shops believed to belong to immigrants. Anti-immigrant violence has flared sporadically in South Africa against a background of near-record unemployment, with foreigners being accused of taking jobs from citizens and involvement in crime.

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South African riot policemen fire rubber bullets to disperse migrants and foreign nationals clashing in PretoriaPhill Magakoe/AFP

Armed police formed a barrier between rival crowds of citizens and non-nationals, but both sides began shouting at one another and brandishing rocks and sticks, prompting police to disperse the angry mobs. Shops were shuttered in Marabastad, an area of western Pretoria where many foreign nationals have their shops, and roads were blocked as the marchers gathered. Some of the foreigners carried rocks and sticks, saying they were ready to protect their stores.

South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Migrants jump over a man who fell on the ground while fleeing from South African police forces during a stand-off between members of the Somali community and anti-immigrant demonstrators in the Marabastad neighbourhood in PretoriaMarco Longari/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Migrants armed with machetes and rocks demonstrate in the Marabastad neighbourhood in PretoriaMarco Longari/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
A man shows his South African identity document after being attacked by a mob in PretoriaJames Oatway/Reuters
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
A man reacts to tear gas fired by police fire to disperse rival marches in PretoriaJames Oatway/Reuters
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Migrants armed with rocks and sticks march in the Marabastad neighbourhood in PretoriaMarco Longari/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
South African riot policemen fire rubber bullets to disperse migrants clashing with South African nationalsPhill Magakoe/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
A South African riot policeman fires rubber bullets to disperse South African nationals during a protest march against illegal immigrantsPhill Magakoe/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Migrants armed with rocks demonstrate in the Marabastad neighbourhood in PretoriaMarco Longari/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Migrants armed with rocks and sticks watch from the back of a pick-up truck as a police helicopter hovers over an anti-immigration march in the Marabastad neighbourhood in PretoriaMarco Longari/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Migrants protect themselves as debris is blown around by a police helicopter trying to calm the crowdJohn Wessels/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
A man shouts and gestures as he takes part in an anti-immigrant march in PretoriaMarco Longari/AFPJohn Wessels/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
South African police push members of the Somalian community as an anti-immigrant march in Pretoria turns violentJohn Wessels/AFP
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Protesters run through the streets of PretoriaJames Oatway/Reuters
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
South African nationals sitting on a vehicle shout slogans during a protest march against illegal immigrantsPhill Magakoe/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Somali nationals argue with police during clashes in PretoriaJames Oatway/Reuters
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Members of the Somalian community stand by a metal gate as they watch an immigration march in PretoriaJohn Wessels/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
South African nationals are detained by police in PretoriaPhill Magakoe/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
South African riot policemen detain and arrest protesters in PretoriaPhill Magakoe/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
South African riot policemen detain and arrest protesters in PretoriaPhill Magakoe/AFP
South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
Riot police round up South African national protesters in PretoriaPhill Magakoe/AFP

President Jacob Zuma condemned acts of violence between citizens and non-nationals, his office said in a statement. Zuma appealed to citizens not to blame all crime on non-nationals. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba acknowledged violence had flared up against foreigners, adding that "unfortunately, xenophobic violence is not new in South Africa." In retaliation, Nigerian protesters vandalised the head office of South African mobile phone company MTN in Abuja.

The marches follow the looting this week of at least 20 small businesses believed to belong to Nigerian and Pakistani immigrants. Residents said they had attacked the shops because they were dens of prostitution and drug dealing. Some said they had lost jobs to the foreigners.

South Africa foreigners xenophobia pretoria
South African police officers raid a building in Pretoria where alleged foreign drug dealers were hidingMarco Longari/AFP

In 2015, anti-immigrant riots in and around the city of Durban killed at least six people. In 2008, similar violence killed about 60 people.