ZIMBABWEANS living in South Africa are scared of an outbreak of xenophobic attacks following "reckless" statements made by the neighbouring country's leader Cyril Ramaphosa at an ANC campaign rally a few days ago.
With indications of instability already evident in the volatile Kwazulu Natal region, Ramaphosa stoked further tensions last week when he warned his government will not allow foreigners without permits to set up business or settle in southern Africa's biggest economy.
"Everybody just arrives in our township and rural areas and set bases without licenses and permits. We are going to bring this to an end and whoever doing this, wherever they come from, they must know," Ramaphosa said.
But opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema reacted angrily to Ramaphosa's unguarded rant arguing Africans needed to unite and not be blinded by artificial colonial boundaries.
"Zimbabwe is our home and we are one thing. Mozambique is our home, DRC is our home, Botswana is our home. The problems of Zimbabwe are our problems; let us not be too local, let us be international.
"We don't live in isolation. Let us stop xenophobic, let us stop self-hate. Why do you beat up locals without papers? No one must be allowed to divide Africa. If you are not going to vote for us because we love Zimbabweans so much, go with your vote," Malema a former ruling ANC party youth league leader said.
Social media was awash with messages of fear and hate in equal measure as foreigners were left on edge while South African seemed emboldened by Ramaphosa's clear support for possible attacks amid reports this could happen just after the May 8 plebiscite.
But Ramaphosa seemed to have capitulated and declared his support for foreigners as well as condemn the attacks. He said there are many foreigners who respect South Africa and its laws.
"The attack on foreign nationals for whatever reason is a form of intolerance that the people of this country have rejected many times before and must do so again. As South Africans we are not an intolerant people.
"We cannot be defined as intolerant and not wanting to live side by side with people from other countries. These recent attacks are wrong and they violet everything we fought for over many decades," the ANC leader said.
" As for me I condemn them in the strongest terms because this is not us. We continue to appreciate what our fellow Africans have done for our liberation. They stood side by side with us as fought the liberation struggle. They supported us."
South Africa is home to millions of Zimbabweans who fled the economic crisis that has gripped the nation for decades now.