Thousands of people flocked to King Goodwill Zwelithini’s imbizo at Moses Mabhida Stadium in KwaZulu-Natal on Monday, held in response the xenophobic violence sweeping through South Africa. Zwelithini has been accused of instigating the violence when he said that foreigners in South Africa must go back home. The imbizo, however, failed to send out the anti-xenophobic message it had promised. RA’EESA PATHER wraps up five ways the imbizo went wrong.
1. Foreigners must go
— Judith Subban (@judithsubban) April 20, 2015
As people began to arrive in the stadium, reports emerged that the crowds were chanting xenophobic slurs. Nontobeko Sibisi, a reporter for eNCA, tweeted that people were yelling “abahambe, badayisa ama’drugs” which she translated to English as “they must go, they sell drugs”. She then heard people singing “Wawungakanani sishaya ikwere*****”, which she said was “loosely trans. [to] how old were you when we assaulted the foreign nationals”. So far, at least six people have died in the xenophobic attacks that erupted two week ago, with perpetrators chasing immigrants out of their homes. Needless to say, the chants from the crowd perpetuated xenophobia, rather than quelled it. 2. The “stealing jobs” rumour
When xenophobic attacks break out, looters often attempt to justify their actions by saying that foreigners are stealing jobs. This frustration was also evident at the imbizo. eNCA reporter Judith Subban tweeted a photo of a man holding a sign that read: “I have 8 years no job”. But, researchers say that migrant workers aren’t stealing jobs in South Africa, but actually contributing to the job market.
“The evidence shows that they contribute to South Africa and South Africans by providing jobs, paying rent, paying VAT and providing affordable and convenient goods,” Dr Sally Peberdy, a researcher who studied the informal sector in Johannesburg for the Gauteng City-Region Observatory, told Africa Check.
But some attendees at the imbizo weren’t aware of the contributions immigrants had made, and instead fostered blame against migrant workers to explain South Africa’s lacklustre job market.
3. Boos and jeers for “non-Zulu” speakers
#XenoImbizo Many people in the crowd very hostile towards foreingers. African ambassoders jeered. Islamic & Jewish prayers booed.
— Govan Whittles (@van1go) April 20, 2015
The crowd reportedly booed ambassadors from African nations, and various religious representatives who led prayers. “We need to behave in front of the king and show respect,” MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu told the crowd, according to the Mail & Guardian. Some speculated that the crowd couldn’t understand what was being said in other languages and, therefore, booed the speakers or that they were booing because they had come to hear the king speak, and not anyone else. It’s hard to give a definitive answer on this one, but with xenophobic sentiment so rampant, one would have hoped that the imbizo would foster tolerance for all speakers. 4. The King’s Speech
Many listening to the address had hoped that Zwelithini would apologise for his earlier comments but it never happened. Instead the king suggested the South African Human Rights Commission investigate the role of the media in the xenophobic attacks, and said that his initial comments were taken out of context and went on to declare a war on xenophobia. The king also revealed his suspicion that a “third force” was behind the attacks.
“I did not call the Imbizo for people who are at the center of the xenophobic violence, but against those who are doing this in the Zulu name. The government agrees with me that there is a third force and we need to fight against it,” Zwelithini said.
5. The language barrier
— Outside Stocktaker (@Zuko_Godlimpi) April 20, 2015
While many South Africans were displeased with Zwelithini’s lack of accountability, the imbizo sent out at least one useful message to everyone commenting on what was going down: get the facts right.
The king used Zulu idioms in his speech, which were mistranslated by media, rendering some dangerous conclusions about what he had meant. In one instance, eNCA translated the idiom “Isandla SeMfene” as “hand of a baboon”. South African mining magnate Bongani Mbindwane tweeted that the term actually meant “clandestine ways”, which puts a totally different spin on things.
With that said, perhaps the overall lesson we can take home from imbizo is that we could all do with a little less intolerance and a little more willingness to learn.