Zimbabwe’s information minister on Monday condemned ongoing violence against foreigners in South Africa, warning that unless its leaders addressed the situation more strongly it could “sow the seeds of genocide.” In an interview to BBC, Jonathan Moyo said that the country needed to take a sterner stance against the ongoing xenophobic violence, which has left at least seven dead and caused thousands more to flee.

“The primary responsibility for any government is the protection of its citizens. But you cannot in one and the same breath say there have been these horrible attacks, we don’t condone them. However, why are these people here, and not in their own countries. That is precisely what xenophobia is,” Moyo said.

South African President Jacob Zuma has condemned the violence between the country’s native and foreign nationals and appointed a committee to investigate its underlying causes. Since the attacks began in late April, the government has repatriated over 5,500 people, primarily from Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Over 3,900 people, including 1,650 illegal immigrants, have also been arrested since the violence began, BBC reported. In late April, Nigeria recalled its ambassador to South Africa in protest over Pretoria’s handling of the violence. 

South Africa’s Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini recently described the attacks as "vile." However, he has been rebuked for previously saying that he denounced foreigners living in the country. "Let us pop our head lice. We must remove ticks and place them outside in the sun. We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and be sent back," he had told an assembled rally in March.

Moyo disapproved of Zwelithini's comments, but also warned that the country needed to tackle the issue of lynch mobs. 

“If you allow that to happen without condemning it outright, without condemning it unconditionally, you sow seeds of genocide. If you have a king who is very influential saying that foreigners must pack their bags and go home, and likening them to lice and ants, that is what happens,” he told BBC on Monday. “We don’t have any problem with South Africans. They are our comrades, our brothers and our sisters ... but we have serious problems with those lynch mobs doing what they did in full view of TV cameras."

Zwelithini, one of Zuma’s key allies, had defended his statements, saying they had been taken out of context. "The country has only been shown a portion of my speech, which has been selective," he said later in March. "If it were true that I said 'foreigners must go' this country would be up in flames."