NO fewer than 5,000 people have taken part in a rally against xenophobia in South Africa’s coastal city of Durban following attacks on foreigners.
President Jacob Zuma condemned the violence which has claimed at least five lives, as “shockin”, and called for calm to be restored.
The Zulu king has been accused of fuelling the attacks. He denies this.
Many jobless South Africans accuse foreigners of taking thier jobs in a country where the unemployment rate is 24 percent.
“No amount of frustration or anger can justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” President Zuma told parliament on Thursday.
Protesters marched through Durban chanting “Down With Xenophobia” and “A United Africa”, led by the city’s mayor and the premier of KwaZulu-Natal province.
Marcher Vanessa Govender told the BBC: “It’s just a mammoth show of support for all those foreigners who have fallen victim to the past two weeks of xenophobic violence.”
As the march was held, anti-immigrant protesters clashed with police, but were reportedly dispersed by water cannon and pepper spray.
The latest wave of violence against foreigners erupted in the Durban area before spreading to other parts of the country.
In Johannesburg on Thursday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a crowd chanting anti-immigrant slogans after attacks on foreign-owned shops. Dozens of migrants sought refuge in a police station.
Malawi has said it would evacuate its nationals from South Africa and Kenya says it is preparing to do the same. Mozambique has set up border camps to cope with the exodus of its citizens.
Foreign-owned shops were forced to bring down the shutters because of skirmishes earlier in the day.
Many foreigners, mostly from other African states and Asia, moved to South Africa since white-minority rule ended in 1994. At least 62 people died in xenophobic attacks that swept South Africa in 2008.
South Africa has expressed regret following xenophobic attacks targeting mostly African migrants in the country, says Home Affairs Minister, Malusi Gigaba.
Gigaba says President Jacob Zuma has constituted an inter-ministerial committee which includes security and immigration officials, with the task of resolving the violence against foreign nationals.
Zuma appealed for calm after officials said about 116 alleged masterminds of the violence have been arrested.
“No grievance or concern is enough to justify acts of criminality and violence against foreign or even South African nationals. And so, we are determined to stamp this violence out and ensure that people can live in peace in South Africa,” said Gigaba.
“On the other hand, where there are genuine grievances among South Africans, particularly of an economic nature, as well as social services, we will address those so that we can remove the powder keg, which can be used by criminals opportunistically to instigate violence and to cause violence against foreign nationals,” he added.
Gigaba said Zuma’s call for calm was timely, adding that the government has set in motion plans to prosecute and punish those found guilty of xenophobic attacks.
He said Pretoria has engaged the African diplomatic corps to brief them about the administration’s plans to help the victims as well as end the violence.
“We have visited the displaced people in the shelters. We’ve spoken to them and expressed our regret and assured them of our government’s intention to deal decisively with the situation to ensure their reintegration.
“We’ve also reassured those who wish for voluntary repatriation that we are going to assist them towards their safe return to their home countries,” Gigaba added.
Victims of the violence say they were attacked because they are African migrants. They expressed surprise about the attacks since many African countries helped black South Africans in their struggle against the apartheid white minority rule.
Gigaba agreed, but added that other nationals as well as some South Africans were also attacked.
“All of these incidents undermine our efforts towards greater integration in the African continent and it undermines our efforts towards building a peaceful correlation with our African neighbours, and the peace efforts our government has been involved with on the African continent,” he said.
Meanwhile, influential Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini has been accused of stoking xenophobia after he was quoted as saying foreigners should “pack their bags and leave.”
He was widely quoted as saying last month that foreigners should “go back to their countries”. However, he said his comments had been distorted.
“As I speak to you, you find there are unsightly goods hanging all over our shops,” a transcribed quote from Zwelithini published by South Africa’s Eyewitness News reads. “They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which. They are all blocked by foreigners.
But Gigaba said the king denied the reports after the inter-ministerial team met him. The king has since appealed for calm and an end to the violence.
In the days before the peace march in Durban, more than 2,000 foreigners fled to camps erected on sports fields around the city, afraid to return home, according to Gift of the Givers, an aid organization.
In the city of Durban along the Indian Ocean, one of Zuma’s wives, Thobeka Madiba-Zuma encouraged thousands who had participated in a peace march.
The U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, who was born in the then Zaire to Haitian parents, spoke in defense of the immigrants.
“As an immigrant to my own country, my heart goes out to those who have been attacked for being different,” said Patrick H. Gaspard in a statement emailed by the U.S. Embassy.
The fear felt by many was palpable as dozens of foreigners sought refuge at a police station outside of Johannesburg and stayed there overnight, according to a police spokesman, Col. Lungelo Dlamini.
Some foreigners from other African nations have armed themselves with machetes and knives.
South Africa’s Human Rights Commission said it has received two complaints of hate speech levelled against the king. Commission spokesman, Isaac Mangena said it has received several other complaints of xenophobia not directly related to the Zwelithini’s comments.
South Africa is a major destination for asylum seekers and refugees, and the country currently houses more than 300,000 asylum seekers, according to projections by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said UNHCR spokeswoman, Tina Ghelli.
Minister of International Relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane yesterday met with diplomats from several African countries to discuss the government’s efforts to protect immigrants, her office said in a statement.
“Xenophobia today can easily mutate into genocide tomorrow. Stop it,” tweeted Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, adding that the Zulu king should “extinguish what he ignited.”
In Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, some locals believed that Somalis would have been safer in their troubled native country, rather than South Africa.
“This must become a lesson for them to return home,” said Khadra Hussein, a Mogadishu resident. “Otherwise, they will be eliminated one by one.”
The attacks on migrant shop owners in Durban this week reminds us the position of foreigner in South Africa is a complex one. After decades of isolation from the rest of the African continent, and the world, during apartheid, South Africa finally opened up to the rest of world in 1994.
Under apartheid, South Africa’s immigration mirrored the narrow mindedness and prejudice of the National Party. Several laws made visiting or living in South Africa unpalatable to many particularly those of non-European descent.
At the dawn of the “new South Africa” in 1994, the country became home to many outsiders, playing a key role in offering protection and refuge to people who had suffered unfavorable conditions in their home countries.
At the heart of South Africa’s complex problem with xenophobia is the loaded meaning of the term “foreigner.” Pejoratively, the term “foreigner” in South Africa usually refers to African and Asian non-nationals.
“Other” foreigners–particularly those from the Americas and Europe go unnoticed–they are often lumped up with “tourists,” or even better, referred to as “expats.”
It is this reason why the South African government says it is hesitant to call the recent attacks on foreign nationals as xenophobic. Many South Africans look at the attacks on enterprising African immigrants from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria and Malawi–often running shops, stalls and other businesses in the informal economy–and resolve that the current attacks on foreigners are more Afrophobic, than xenophobic.
Many ask: “Why is it that a Somali who runs a shop in a township, get raided and beaten up, while a white immigrant in the same town continues to run a restaurant full of patrons?”
It is this delineation that breeds ground for denial.
While this sentiment may be correct–that the violent expression of xenophobia in South Africa is meted out mainly against African immigrants – it is unhelpful to resolve the crisis that has left many foreign nationals homeless, tortured and dispossessed.
While we can ascribe the attacks to sentiments of Afrophobia, we must be willing to agree that the attacks are fuelled by a sense of hatred, dislike and fear of foreigners – and that is xenophobia. And given the fact that foreign nationals from Pakistan and Bangladesh have been profiled in this wave of attacks, it will soon no longer be enough for South Africans to cry “Afrophobia.”
Edward Zuma, the son of South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma (both of Zulu heritage), has reportedly come out in support of the king’s comments.
“We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of them [foreigners] taking over the country,” Edward Zuma told News24.com, attributing a slew of national problems–the drug trade, gun violence, general criminality. He even raised the specter of a political takeover led by armed refugees from elsewhere in Africa.
“We can’t rule out the possibility of a coup in the future,” he warned. “The government needs to clean out everyone that is in the country illegally. They need to leave.”
Zulu nationalism–a longtime presence in South African politics–has likely also played a significant hand. But the muscular ethnocentrism behind Goodwill Zwelithini’s statements did not develop in a vacuum.
Competition between Zulus and other native South Africans against non-native, non-white laborers has deep roots in colonial history, dating back to the very foundation of the South African state.
After many Zulus were forced off their lands by British settlers in the aftermath of the bloody Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, they began to congregate in shanty towns around major eastern cities–Durban and Pietermaritzburg in particular–where they competed for work with large numbers of Indian migrants recently freed from indentured servitude on South African sugar plantations.
Source : The Guardian