The African National Congress (ANC) has taken centre stage for its response to the recent attacks against foreign shopkeepers in Gauteng. As government grapples with youth unemployment and inequality in South Africa, it may have made a few blunders in its response to the violence against foreign nationals. RA’EESA PATHER reports.
1. “I’m not xenophobic but…”
You know there’s a problem when someone says “I am not xenophobic, but…” Water Affairs and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane ushered in the new year by accusing Somali and Pakistani business owners of a “subtle takeover” in townships.
Mokonyane’s remarks preceded the Soweto attacks, but drew public attention in the aftermath of the violence.
“The comments the minister made early in January have no bearing on the protest in Soweto and other affected areas in Gauteng,” the minister’s chief of staff Collin Pitso told News24.
Despite attempts to distance the minister’s statement from the violence against foreign nationals in Gauteng, the attacks brought more relevance to Mokonyane’s post. Nomboniso Gasa, a researcher who works in the field of race and gender laws, responded to the minister on Facebook, with reference to Mokonyane’s position during the 2008 xenophobic unrest in Gauteng.
“She was one of the most difficult, obstrutive and defficult (sic) politicians to deal with that the time. Even getting the ‘refugee camps’ which were secured by UNHCR was incredibly difficult as she flat refused to identify land because ‘they would not want to move out’,” Gasa wrote.
2. It’s not xenophobia, it’s criminality
Premier Makhura:Work with govt to remove illegal firearms among foreign nationals-don’t take law into your own hands pic.twitter.com/EnjCJ6AB4T
— Ismail Vadi (@ismailvadi) January 24, 2015
Following the danger in Soweto, Somalis from the township have sought refuge in the Johannesburg suburb of Mayfair. Gauteng Premier David Makhura visited victims, and said that the looting was a result of criminality and not xenophobia. Even as foreign nationals were fleeing the township, Makhura emphasised that the attacks in Soweto “had nothing to do with foreigners”. While the attacks against foreigners in Gauteng have been criminal – looting and violence is after all not condoned by South African law – that doesn’t mean that they are not motivated by xenophobia. “People should not think that xenophobia and criminality are mutually exclusive. Hate crimes such as gender-based violence or corrective rape are criminal, but what is the motivation? The motivation is the negative attitude towards a group,” Jean Pierre Misago, a researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand, told the Mail & Guardian.
3. Tightening laws for the people who didn’t loot
Zuma to W. Europeans “Invest in South Africa, we are investment-friendly” Gwede Mantashe “Foreigners are prohibited from owning land in SA” — Jan van Trouble (@crabracer) January 28, 2015
Although ANC representatives have condemned the looters, the party has quickly shifted its attention to address laws and policies that affect foreign nationals. “We need to tighten emigration laws. It should not be a free for all,” ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said in a speech in Soweto last week. The party also held a lekgotla last week, at which Mantashe said that land policies would possibly be reformed so that “land ownership by foreign nationals will also be prohibited”. Mantashe’s statements came eight days after President Jacob Zuma welcomed “both domestic and foreign business partners to invest in the South African economy” at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
4. Foreigners are here as a courtesy
Small business development Minister Lindiwe Zulu shocked South Africans with her statement that there will never be peace in townships unless foreign business owners share their trade secrets. “Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. A platform is needed for business owners to communicate and share ideas. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners,” Zulu said. Well, that certainly won’t perpetuate any ill-feeling towards foreign nationals.
5. ANC Youth League: #StopXenophobia
Morning Comrades, the ANC YOUTH LEAGUE call upon all South Africans to take part in the #StopXenophobia Campaign! We showed the world we were United with the #AmandlaChallenge! Now let’s show Africa that we are united against Xenophobia! Criminals are giving all of us a bad name! We will not let them succeed!!! #StopXenophobia!✋ #IAMANC A photo posted by I AM ANC (@iam_anc) on
The ANC may be showing signs of xenophobia denialism, but the party’s younger members seemed to have found a more fitting response to the attacks. The ANC Youth League has started a #StopXenophobia campaign on photo-sharing network, Instagram.
“Now let’s show Africa that we are united against Xenophobia!” the caption on the League’s Instagram profile says.
Perhaps their elders could take a leaf out of their book.
– Featured image: By Nathi Ngubane.