A wave of violence directed at immigrants killed at least 13 people in the South African city of Johannesburg since Friday, aid workers say. Some 6,000 people have fled the attacks.
To try to stop gangs of armed youths from attacking foreigners and looting and burning their property, police have used tear gas and rubber bullets.
More that 200 arrests have been made for crimes including rape, said that police.
In the area of Cleveland, five people were killed overnight. Two of them were burned and the others were beaten to death.
More than 50 people were taken to hospitals with gunshot and stab wounds.
About 1,000 Zimbabweans have been taken refuge in a church that was attacked during the day.
“We consider that the situation is getting so serious that the police can no longer control it”, said Bishop Paul Veryn (photo), of the Central Methodist Church which was attacked, on SABC radio.
The Bishop called fot a state of emergency to be declared in order to halt the violence.
Caroline Hawley reports that as night fell, immigrants, carrying whatever belongings they could, were streaming into one police station near downtown Johannesburg.
She reports that now many fear for their lives. One Zimbabwean woman told the BBC she would flee back home rather than risk losing her two children to the mobs.
Up to three million Zimbabweans are thought to be in South Africa.
The trouble began a week ago in the sprawling township of Alexandra. Immigrants from neighbouring African countries were set upon by men with guns and iron bars chanting “kick the foreigners out”.
Violence has spread to other areas
Terrified Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and Malawians fled to the safety of the local police station and to Diepsloot, another township.
But they were then attacked there as well : shacks were burnt down and shops looted. Since then, the violence has spread to other areas.
Millions of African immigrants have poured into South Africa since the end of apartheid, seeking jobs and sanctuary.
But now they have become scapegoats for many of the country’s social problems such as the high rate of unemployment, a shortage of housing and one of the worst levels of crime in the world.
Frightened immigrants forced out of their homes are now getting food and blankets from the South African Red Cross.
Thabo Mbeki (photo), South African president, said he would set up a panel of experts to investigate the violence.
Jacob Zuma, the leader of the governing African National Congress, condemned the attacks.
“We cannot allow South Africa to be famous for xenophobia” he said during a conference in Pretoria.