Security agencies in KwaZulu-Natal are on high alert amid fears that xenophobic clashes in Gauteng could spread.

Community Safety MEC Mxolisi Kaunda on Friday warned that any “opportunists who might be stoking the fires of tensions between foreign nationals for their nefarious objectives” will be treated as criminals.

“We wish to warn that security agencies have been placed on full alert to deal decisively with the acts of criminality irrespective of who perpetuated it. We‚ equally‚ call on our community leaders at all levels to work with the community and convince them of the need for peaceful co-existence between our foreign nationals and the people of KwaZulu-Natal‚” he said

Kaunda is the chairperson on the province’s Inter-Ministerial Committee on Xenophobia‚ which was established after violent anti-foreigner protests in Durban and other parts of KwaZulu-Natal nearly two years ago. He said representatives of foreign nationals met him on Friday and raised concerns of violent outbreaks given the events in Tshwane and Gauteng.

“The premier of KwaZulu-Natal‚ Willies Mchunu‚ said time and again that foreign nationals are our brothers and we should do everything possible to ensure that we co-exist with them peacefully‚” Kaunda said. “In fact‚ it is illegal and a crime to attack foreign nationals for whatever reasons. If they are those who are committing acts of illegality it is the work of the police to deal with them as ordinary criminals not as foreign nationals.

“We therefore urge the people of KwaZulu-Natal to go out and organise people to fight against the scourge of xenophobia. We also wish to inform the foreign nationals not to panic because people and other people’s structures have been primed to prevent an act of violence against foreign nationals.”

Kaunda added that the inter-ministerial committee had continued to roll out programmes to promote good relations between foreign nationals and the people of KZN since the unfortunate scenes of March 2015.

“We‚ therefore‚ urge people of KwaZulu-Natal not to do anything to reverse the gains made and let us work for the promotion of general peaceful co-existence with the foreign nationals‚” said Kaunda.