south africa xenophobic attacks
Police officers fire rubber bullets as they disperse African immigrants carrying machetes Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

A new nationalist political party with a strong anti-foreign sentiment has emerged in South Africa. The party, South African First, was founded in December 2016 by Mario Khumalo, a 37-year-old politician from Pretoria.

Khumalo said in a 20 February interview the aim of the party – recently registered with the Electoral Commission of South Africa – was to ensure foreigners would not threaten South Africans' livelihoods.

The leader blamed millions of foreigners living in the country for social and ecomomic problems South Africa is experiencing.

"Their tuckshops, hair salons and businesses are crippling our people," Khumalo was quoted by IOL News website as saying.

"As cliched as it sounds, I am not xenophobic. I am just a nationalist, oriented towards gaining and maintaining self-governance, or full sovereignty, over a territory of historical significance," he added.

Khumalo said if it came to power following the upcoming national election in 2019, his party would give foreign nationals 48 hours to leave and then seal the borders, Times Lives reported.

The leader said millions of foreigners including Zimbabweans, Malawians, Nigerians and Mozambicans live in the country. "It cannot be," he said. "You cannot build a nation within a nation. Their businesses do not bank their proceeds. Where is the money going? "

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa

Businesses run by foreign nationals are often the target of xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

Khumalo's comments came as more than 30 foreign-owned shops were looted in two neighbourhoods in Pretoria on 20 February.

The latest round of attacks targeting foreign-owned shops occurred just a few days ahead of a planned march against the presence of foreginers in the country.

The march – scheduled to take place on Friday (24 February) – was organised by the Mamelodi Concerned Residents organisation, which is distributing flyers calling on people to take part in the rallies.

"Unemployment is at 34% in South Africa but they give people asylum seeker status when there is no work in South Africa. What do they expect them to do," the flyer reads.

South Africa witnessed a rise in xenophobic attacks in the past few years. Last year, locals looted shops owned by foreigners in the Dunoon township in Cape Town. The attacks prompted people to flee.

In October 2015, at least 500 people – mainly Zimbabweans, Somalis, Nigerians and Pakistanis – fled their homes in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape after a surge of xenophobic violence in the area.

Earlier in 2015, South Africans targeted foreigners accusing them of stealing jobs and opportunities in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province. At least five people were killed and thousands displaced, prompting the country to deploy its army to help police curb the violence.

The deployment followed the fatal stabbing of immigrant Emmanuel Sithole. Pictures of him pleading for his life before being killed were published by local newspapers, provoking anger.