The shocking case has sparked a wave of anti-migrant sentiment in South Africa, which has a long history of xenophobia against African immigrants.
The police said illegal migrants who travel to the area in search of informal work from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Cameroon were behind the attack. Since the incident, more than 120 people have been arrested.
The government is facing increasing pressure to deal with illegal immigrants. It has warned around 160,000 Zimbabweans who have temporary work permits that they must leave South Africa by the end of the year unless they get a formal permit.
The visas were issued in 2009 to Zimbabweans working illegally in South Africa. The move was seen as a gesture of goodwill while former president Robert Mugabe drove Zimbabwe into the ground with disastrous economic policies.
The visa, which was initially granted for a five-year period, had been extended twice. The sudden U-turn is believed to be a show of force by South Africa’s government which is keen to demonstrate action against illegal migrants.
The UN warned in July that the country “is on the precipice of explosive violence” due to anti-migrant discourse from senior government officials.