A South African cheers prior to the start of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations match between Egypt and Bafana Bafana earlier this year.
CNN  — 

The ugliness of the real world has infiltrated the beautiful game as a football match between Zambia and South Africa was canceled because of a spate of xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The two former African champions were set to meet in the National Heroes Stadium in the Zambian capital of Lusaka Saturday, but the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) has called off the match.

The decision comes after a series of violent clashes between South Africans and foreign nationals which has resulted in the reported deaths of five people, with 189 people arrested as foreign-owned shops and businesses were ransacked in broad daylight.

Zambian supporters cheer for their team during the FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Nigeria and Zambia in 2017.

Wave of violence

The violence started last week in Pretoria following the shooting of a local taxi driver, allegedly by a foreign drug dealer.

On Monday, a pamphlet attributed to a group called the Sisionke Peoples Forum circulated on social media and accused foreigners living in South Africa of stealing jobs and selling drugs.

In a statement, the FAZ said that the game between the sides known as “Chipolopolo” and “Bafana Bafana” had been scrapped “in view of the prevailing security concerns in South Africa. FAZ general secretary Adrian Kashala has relayed the message to the South African Football Association (SAFA) about the decision.”

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A man runs from tear gas  in Germiston, east of Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Zambia high commission in Pretoria cautioned its citizens living in South Africa to take precautionary measures for their safety.

“Trouble spots or towns should be avoided as well as movement to other places except where it is absolutely necessary,” said Naomi Nyawali, the commission’s spokesperson, in a statement.

A Zambian national, identified in the statement as 33-year-old Daniel Lupiya, sustained life threatening injuries Monday after being stabbed in the head.

Echoes of a dark past

FAZ’s action harks back to the sporting boycotts of South Africa during the apartheid era. Between 1960 and 1992, the country was barred from competing at the Olympic Games and was excluded from the international stage in popular sports such as rugby, cricket and football.

South Africa will instead host Madagascar in Soweto Saturday. Zambia has yet to name a replacement.

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the “acts of wanton violence” and said there was no justification for the attacks. “We are against xenophobia,” he said in a series of videos on his official Twitter account. “These attacks are completely against the rule of law.”

Police minister general Bheki Cele joined his president in condemning the attacks but failed to draw a connection to anti-foreign sentiments. He told reporters after a tour of Johannesburg’s central business district the violence was due to “criminality rather than xenophobia” and that “xenophobia is just an excuse to commit criminal acts.”

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Troubling rhetoric

A police truck patrols an area affected by looters in Germiston, east of Johannesburg.

In a press briefing Monday, Cele’s deputy minister of police Bongani Mkongi said: “South Africans have surrendered their own cities to foreign nationals.” He added it was “not xenophobia to talk truth (sic).”

In a statement Tuesday, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, condemned “in the strongest terms the incidents of violence” and said he was encouraged by the work of the South African police.

According to a report by the World Bank last year, South Africa has the most inequality out of 149 countries. As many as 46 percent of citizens bring home less than $68 a month while those who earn more than $490 a month are among the top 10 percent of earners. Poverty is consistently highest among black Africans.