The spread of xenophobic violence against African immigrants in Gauteng is cause for great alarm, given its potential to create anarchy in many parts of the province.
Most worrying, too, is the effect of the violence on the cosmopolitan outlook of Johannesburg and other parts of the province, a feature credited with giving the city its unique vibrancy.
But all that is in danger if the violence continues to polarise the province, creating the dreaded no-go areas that were a relic of the 1990s political violence.
Behind the violence is undoubtedly a criminal element bent on carrying out its nefarious activities under the cover of public violence.
Evidence of this disturbing pattern is the systematic looting that has followed the evacuation of refugees at various flash points. This points to a deliberate campaign.
Sooner or later the conflagration might take on a more sinister note with reports of indiscriminate attacks on the public by faceless elements.
Hence the imperative for the government to muster all resources to nip the lawlessness in the bud before its too late.
We dare not return to the climate of fear that enveloped the country in the 1990s. An eerie reminder of that period is the restiveness witnessed in some of Gauteng's hostels at the weekend.
It's an unwanted dynamic that will hold dire implications for efforts to quell the violence.