The South African Police Service (SAPS) says it has arrested a total of 289 suspects in connection to violence that has primarily targeted foreign-owned businesses in the country.

South African mobs had launched attacks on foreigners, including Nigerians, and looted and burnt their places of business in suburbs of Johannesburg and surrounding areas on Sunday, September 1, 2019, and Monday, September 2.

The attacks also continued on Tuesday, September 3, but SAPS says there’s been a ‘dramatic decline’ in the violence according to a statement issued on Wednesday, September 4.

Of the 289 suspects arrested since Sunday, SAPS said 100 were apprehended in Ekurhuleni late on Tuesday while officers were responding to several incidents of public violence and looting.

“Fifty-four (54) of these suspects were surrounded by the police in Tokoza and Katlehong whilst they were inside two businesses stealing furniture and groceries.

“Others were arrested for public violence in Buhle Park, Germiston and Elsburg for public violence,” the statement read.

The Police management expressed concerns about false information on social media highlighting a spectrum of violence that incites and instills fear among the residents of Gauteng where the conflict has been rife.

“Today’s false information on fake social media relating to the schools that are burning and the kidnapping of school children in Katlehong is geared to incite violence and instil fear among the Gauteng communities. 

The abuse of social media has since the flare-up of the recent incidents of violence and looting of businesses in some parts of Gauteng, is being condemned in the strongest terms as it seeks to undermine the authority of the state,” SAPS said.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned the attacks and called for unity.

The recent attacks have put South Africa on a diplomatic tightrope with many countries, especially Nigeria.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday sent an unnamed special envoy to Ramaphosa to register his concerns over the attacks.

The Nigerian government has also withdrawn its participation from the World Economic Forum (WEF) hosted by South Africa. The summit started on Wednesday.

Nigerians react violently

The attacks have angered many Nigerians who have called for a boycott of South African businesses, like Shoprite, operating in Nigeria.

This led to the vandalisation and looting of a Shoprite store in Lagos and several other stores, including those owned by Nigerians, late on Tuesday. One protester was gunned down by the Police.

Stores belonging to PEP and MTN, both South African-owned businesses, were also vandalised and looted by mobs in the Surulere area of Lagos.

The protests continued on Wednesday with protesters burning tyres on the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Road in Lugbe, Abuja just metres away from a locked Shoprite store.

The Shoprite Group said several of its stores in Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia could not open for business on Wednesday due to protests and extensive damage done to them over the past 24 hours.

MTN also announced that all its stores and service centres will be closed as a precaution until further notice after it suffered attacks in Lagos, Ibadan and Akwa-Ibom states.