King Goodwill Zwelithini, the traditional leader of the Zulus, has asked for an end to the violence against foreigners that has plagued South Africa since the end of March.
Addressing about 6,000 people at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban, at a gathering ,or imbizo, for peace, Zwelithini denied playing a role in sparking the violence against foreigners, but said he was open to an investigation from the Human Rights Commission over comments made in late last month.
The latest wave of xenophobic violence that began on March 30 in Durban, has been largely pinned on comments made by Zwelithini.
The Zulu king was accused of saying that foreigners needed to pack their bags and leave the country.
“People took what I said out of context. This is ludicrous and laughable,” Zwelithini said on Monday. “Many people have died. I have never killed anyone. I don’t know why i am being accused.”
Adding that all foreigners needed to be made secure, Zwelithini said: “The dignity of the Zulu people must be restored. There could be a third force behind this violence.”
At least eight people have been killed and more than 1,000 displaced as mobs attacked foreign-owned stores, looting and destroying property in Durban, and then in townships in and around Johannesburg.
Also speaking at the event, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu said: “We are here today to support the king’s call for peace.
“We also thank the government for what it has done to quell the violence.”
The event started off badly when crowds booed religious leaders at the top of the programme. According to South Africa’s News24, crowds also jeered the international guests at the event.
“We need to behave in front of the king and show respect. We need to listen carefully as leaders speak today,” Economic and Tourism Minister Mike Mabuyakhulu said to the crowd.
“We also wish for everyone to say something, they should be given respect. If we do that we would have respected the king.”
‘Root of the issue’
Thandeka Duma, an attorney with Lawyers for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera that while the numerous interventions and calls for peace were welcome, there were problems on the ground that still needed to be tackled.
“The intervention is appreciated [but] they are mostly at the national level. It needs to be at the local level … we need to look at the root of the issues and address them,” Duma said.
Duma, who has been working with foreigners impacted by the violence, said that many of those affected are not able to open legal cases, and still do not feel safe.
Earlier on Monday, clashes were reported in the Actonville township outside Johannesburg. Police were called in when residents blocked the roads and attacked foreign-owned stores.
Colonel Lungelo Dlamini, Gauteng Police spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that police were called in after roads were closed but that no looting had taken place.
He denied reports that police had fired rubber bullets, saying that only tear gas had been used.
“The situation is quiet now, but we do have a lot of police presence in the hotspots,” Dlamini said.