Johannesburg, May 24 : Amid criticism that it failed to take measures to prevent violence, the South Africa government has admitted it was aware of the potential of anti-immigrant sentiment to explode into violence.
"Of course we were aware there was something brewing. It is one thing to know there is a social problem and another thing to know when that outburst will occur," news24.com quoted the country's Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils as saying.
The government also apologized for the violence, as Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said during a trip to Nigeria,: "We are very much concerned and apologise for all the inconveniences that the incidents have caused."
Foreigners in South Africa, many of whom have fled economic meltdown in neighbouring Zimbabwe, are being blamed for sky-high crime rates and depriving locals of jobs. In the attacks on foreigners in less than two weeks, at least 40 persons have been killed and more than 17,000 displaced.
Earlier, on Thursday Kasrils had admitted that the government had been taken by surprise by the attacks, and that the "unpardonable acts" were being conducted by opportunistic elements trying to exploit and manipulate local grievances.
Anti-immigrant attacks have happened in South Africa in the past too, though on a far smaller scale, and the South African Human Rights Commission had asked in March for a law against hate crime as well as other measures to protect immigrants.
The government has blamed a "third force" for orchestrating the violence against foreigners. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) claimed that the attacks had been deliberately unleashed ahead of next year's general election.
South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said instead of admitting to its failures, the ANC government had "cast around for excuses" by claiming the violence was the result of a right-wing plot.
"It (the ANC) cannot face the fact that the state's failure to stem the tide of illegal immigration and the almost total incapacity to process the wave of refugee applications was the short-term catalyst for the violence. The ANC elite will never face the fact that poverty-stricken South Africans bear the brunt for government's policy failures," Zille wrote in her weekly online letter.
She said that the government's "quiet-diplomacy" approach to neighbouring and "failed foreign policy" had been a push-factor in propelling Zimbabweans to seek sanctuary in South Africa.