Sasol, Africa’s biggest oil and petrochemicals company, is evacuating 340 South African employees at its Mozambique operations to their home country, on concerns they may be attacked in retribution for widespread violence against foreign workers in South Africa, it said in a statement Friday.
It is the first South African company with operations abroad to take measures to protect employees from the backlash resulting from widespread attacks on foreigners in South Africa.
Violent attacks against African migrants in South Africa have been spreading across the country from the port of Durban to Johannesburg. At least five people have been killed in the brutal attacks against individuals and businesses this month, while thousands have been forced to flee their homes and shops.
Several African nations, including Malawi and Kenya, have offered to evacuate their own nationals living and working in South Africa, and on Thursday evening dozens of foreigners sought refuge at a police station in Germiston, a suburb in eastern Johannesburg.
Tensions flared in March in KwaZulu-Natal, Mr. Zuma’s home province, when a traditional leader said foreigners should leave the country.
“We ask that immigrants take their bags and go where they come from,” said Goodwill Zwelethini, king of the Zulu ethnic group, South Africa’s largest. Edward Zuma, the president’s son, later said he supported the king’s sentiments.
Attacks on foreigner-owned shops in Durban, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal, erupted soon after Mr. Zwelethini’s comments. More than 5,000 people who fled their homes are currently sheltering in mosques, churches and public spaces across the city, said Tina Lynn Ghelli, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s refugee agency.
Sasol’s move highlights the potential for revenge attacks on South African workers abroad.
The oil giant said that it was “aware of unrest from employees of service providers working on Sasol projects in Mozambique,” although it had no cases of violence at their sites there.
It said the evacuation of the 340 South Africans was a “precautionary measure” but that work at one of its sites had been temporarily halted, while others continued operating as normal.
“Mozambican employees of our service providers have expressed concern around the reported incidents of violence against Mozambicans and other foreign nationals in South Africa and are also protesting about the presence of South African employees of our service providers working on the project,” the company said.