Up to 5,000 people are marching in South Africa’s coastal city of Durban in a major rally against xenophobia following attacks on foreigners.
President Jacob Zuma has condemned the attacks, in which at least five people have died in recent weeks, as “shocking and unacceptable”.
The Zulu king has been accused of fuelling the violence. He denies this.
Many jobless South Africans accuse foreigners of taking jobs in a country where the unemployment rate is 24%.
“No amount of frustration or anger can justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” President Zuma told parliament on Thursday. He also urged for calm to be restored to the areas most impacted by violence.
Protesters marched through Durban chanting “Down with xenophobia” and “A United Africa”, led by the city mayor and the premier of KwaZulu Natal province.
Marcher Vanessa Govender said that; “It’s just a mammoth show of support for all those foreigners who have fallen victim to the past two weeks of xenophobic violence.”
Anti-immigrant gatherings were also reported in both Durban and Johannesburg on Thursday, but were later dispersed by police.
The violence, which broke out in Durban and surrounding townships, has spread to other parts of the country, including the economic capital Johannesburg.
Police reported flare-ups of violence in Johannesburg overnight, with foreign-owned shops attacked and dozens of foreigners seeking refuge in a police station.
Malawi has said it would evacuate its nationals from South Africa while Mozambique has set up border camps to cope with the exodus of its citizens.
Many foreigners, mostly from other African states and Asia, have moved to South Africa since white-minority rule ended in 1994.
At least 62 people died in xenophobic attacks that swept South Africa in 2008.
The government-backed South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is investigating two complaints of hate speech made against Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini.
He was widely quoted as saying last month that foreigners should “go back to their countries”. However, he said that his comments had been distorted.
“The king is saddened by what is happening,” his spokesman Prince Thulani Zulu told AFP news agency.