POLOKWANE, South Africa — Men in Westenburg Township went hunting Zimbabweans. They prowled its dirt roads by the truckload as night fell recently, brandishing clubs and throwing stones.

At dawn that day, the body of Steven Hamilton, a 24-year-old local man, had been found near a tavern. In a flash, word spread that drunken Zimbabweans had stabbed him in the chest. By the time people returned home from work, the township had erupted. Men shouted for the Zimbabweans to be killed, or for them to go back where they came from.

Mike Mpofu, 34, a former high school art teacher from Zimbabwe who sells vegetables from a shed, saw the mob coming. Charneal Carelse, a South African teenager whose family had befriended Mr. Mpofu, happened to be walking by. “I told her, ‘There is war coming,’ ” he said.

Charneal said she told him to hide in her house, and he took off running.

In May 2008, South Africa’s image as a home to people of all races and nationalities took a hard knock as xenophobic violence leapt from city to city, victimizing poor Africans who had sought asylum and opportunity in the region’s richest country.

In the year and a half since, such attacks have flared periodically, but recent ones against Zimbabweans here, near South Africa’s northern border, and at its southern tip have brought the problem to the fore again.

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