Gauteng MEC for Economic Development, Agriculture, and Environment, Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - Gauteng member of the executive council for economic development and agriculture Kgosientsho Ramokgopa headed to Soweto on Thursday following the rampant looting of foreign-owned shops overnight.

Ramokgopa blamed the violence on anger over a weak economy and unemployment, adding that it was also a response to clashes earlier this month between foreign street vendors and police who confiscated their counterfeit products in Johannesburg's central business district.

"It is alleged that the locals are looting foreign-owned shops and attacking shopowners as a form of retaliation to the ... operation that went wrong in the Johannesburg CBD over two weeks ago," he said.

"Whereas it is easy to characterise the situation as xenophobia and self-hate, we think that central to the problem is a shrinking economy that is squeezing people out of jobs and business. Undoubtedly, this is breeding ground for conflict."

Ramokgopa said his visit to Soweto was aimed at finding "both political and practical solutions" to the situation.

Residents in the Soweto areas of Jabulani, Naledi, Zola, Emndeni, Moletsane, White City, Zondi and Rockville attacked and stole groceries from the shops on Wednesday night. Photographs and video clips circulating on social media showed looters grabbing food items before dashing off, with some loading the stolen goods into vehicles.

During the clashes in the city centre two weeks ago, mainly foreign street vendors pelted police with rocks and chased them out of the area. Police returned a week later and arrested hundreds of undocumented foreign nationals. They also discovered high-calibre firearms during the raid.

On Thursday, Gauteng police spokesman Captain Kay Makhubele said officers were monitoring areas affected by Wednesday night's looting. Some shop owners who wanted to leave the area were escorted to safety.

There were no reports of injuries and no arrests have been made.

African News Agency/ANA