By Mahlatse Gallens
PRETORIA, April 23 — South Africa will have to redeem its shattered image on the Africa continent following the recent xenophobic attacks in the country, says the dean of the diplomatic corps here, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Ambassador Ben M’Poko.
This is urgent to avoid calls for a boycott of the African Union (AU) Summit due to be held in Johannesburg in June this year in protest against the recent violence against foreigners in South Africa. The country has been condemned across the continent over how it had treated nationals from other African countries.
Three weeks after the violence was unleashed the military has been deployed and M’Poko said this was the first step to redeem South Africa’s image. He said the police were clearly not coping with the situation.
“We applauded the fact that there is a fire, let’s put the fire out before we move forward. The deployment of the army indicated that police are overwhelmed. We saw them in a place like Isipingo in KwaZulu-Natal (Province) where they were five [or] ten policemen and there were a crowd of hundreds. Therefore they cannot react effectively so it took some time for the police to gather themselves and try and deal with the issue,” explained M’Poko.
Meanwhile, South African cars in Mozambique have been stoned and South African energy and chemical company Sasol has had to withdrew its staff from that country while calls for a boycott of South African goods are growing louder, all in retaliation for the xenophobic attacks.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who is also the current chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the African Union (AU) has expressed his shock and disgust at the attacks over the weekend.
M’Poko said President Jacob Zuma would have to engage his peers and send out his lieutenants to manage the crisis.
Civic organizations representing foreigners say this is not the first time that foreign nationals are being attacked by local citizens in South Africa. The first wave of xenophobic violence was in 2008 but in between then and now sporadic outbreaks have been seen.
They have accused government of being reactionary showing no commitment to convicting the perpetrators.
South Africa’s migration practices have also come under the spotlight. “So many migrants are waiting for their permits and the system makes them illegal,” said one migrant.
But African National Congress (ANC) deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte defended the country’s migration policies and right to repatriate those in the country illegally.
She says the region must discuss how to manage those coming to this country looking for jobs. “That category in international arena has not been clearly identified — what do we do with those looking for a job? They are not refugees — that discussion must be heard as a matter of urgency without unintended emotions that goes with it,” explains Duarte.