Police in the commercial hub of Johannesburg came under attack from rock-throwing rioters on Thursday while conducting raids and confiscating counterfeit goods in downtown, largely occupied by migrant workers.
Police used rubber bullets to try disperse the crowd but videos circulating on social media show the officers being chased down the street by a mob hurling rocks at them and their armoured personnel carrier, forcing them to retreat.
“The actions of stone throwing and attacks aimed at members of the South African Police Service by informal traders… is an assault on the citizens of South Africa living in the city,” ANC spokesman Pule Mabe said in a statement.
“The attack on our law-enforcement officers is an attack on our state and sovereignty, and must never go unpunished,” Mabe said.
Parliament’s portfolio committee on police denounced the “worrying acts of lawlessness”.
“It is unacceptable that …police services were stopped from doing their work as mandated by the law,” committee head Tina Joemat-Pettersson said.
The provincial arm of the ANC suggested some foreigners were involved in the “brazen” attacks which it labelled as an “act of extreme provocation” posing a security threat to South Africans and other nationalities who are in the country legally.
South Africa hosts millions of foreigners, most from African countries and many undocumented.
Violence erupts sporadically, often targeting foreign-owned shops and migrants themselves.
Sixty-two people were killed in a wave of xenophobic violence in 2008, and at least seven in a fresh outburst in 2015.
No serious injuries were reported and no arrests have been made after Thursday’s attacks on the police.