The recent wave of xenophobic attacks to hit KZN, which began in Isipingo, have spread throughout Durban and surrounds, and have now reached the CBD. So far, more than 2,000 foreign nationals have been displaced and five have been killed. The official response has been salutary (compared with the reaction to the January xenophobic attacks in Soweto); however, a subtle undercurrent of victim-blaming still persists. MUHAMMED ISMAIL BULBULIA takes a look at the responses by national and local officials.
1. KwaZulu-Natal premier Senzo Mchunu
In a statement calling for unity released last Thursday, KZN premier Senzo Mchunu said that “those who target foreigners should not call themselves South African”. Mchunu also highlighted the potential diplomatic backlash of the assaults and displacement, saying: “We might be perceived as intolerant to foreign nationals and therefore no one would like to do business with us.” Mchunu plans to lead an expected 10,000-strong peace march in Durban on Thursday along with Mayor James Nxumalo to “mobilise society against xenophobia”.
2. Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba
Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba has said that the government’s priority now is to ensure the protection and safety of foreign nationals. Police have been briefed to protect foreigners regardless of their status, with Gigaba stating: “Our priority is not to verify the status of a person or even deport them.” Gigaba, along with KZN premier Senzo Mchunu, has met with ambassadors from Ethiopia‚ Nigeria‚ Zimbabwe‚ Somalia‚ Mozambique and Malawi in Durban to express regret over the attacks. The state has set up temporary shelters for displaced individuals and more than 1,500 foreigners being housed in transit camps set up by the eThekwini Municipality.
3. King Goodwill Zwelithini
The Zulu king, whose comments are alleged to have sparked the recent spate of xenophobic violence, has now condemned the attacks and is calling for “peace and unity.” Zwelithini was reported to have said that foreigners “should pack their bags and go back home” at an address in Pongola last month, after which some Durbanites began looting and chasing foreigners out of nearby informal settlements. Under heavy pressure from local government and public figures, the king has now said that: “There is no justification for murder, looting and attacks … against foreigners.” Although he has condemned the attacks, he still refuses to accept that his comments could have incited them.
4. Jonathan Moyo, information minister of Zimbabwe
— Prof Jonathan Moyo (@ProfJNMoyo) April 14, 2015
“We differ with the ANC on blacks!” tweeted Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe’s outspoken information minister, as a response to the recent xenophobic violence, as well as the ANC’s criticism of Robert Mugabe’s treatment of whites people. He further went on to state that “In Zanu-PF we reject Afrophobia”, and demanded King Goodwill Zwelithini “extinguish what he ignited”.
Moyo ended off his rant by tweeting “Xenophobia today can easily mutate into genocide tomorrow. Stop It,” using the hashtag #AfrophobiainSAMustEnd.
It is not known how many Zimbabweans live in South Africa, with estimates ranging from 1-million to 3-million.
5. eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo
The mayor of eThekwini, James Nxumalo, will join premier Senzo Mchunu in the peace march being held on Thursday in Durban. Nxumalo has called on South Africans to “join us in rejecting and condemning xenophobia and all related discrimination”, after he received a letter from disgruntled locals calling for the removal of all foreigners that run businesses in townships by 17 April. Nxumalo has deemed the current attacks a “crisis” and has been working closely with the premier and local organisations to quell the violence by promoting unity amongst Africans, saying that “our success is intertwined with collaboration with the African continent and its people”.
6. President Jacob Zuma
After deafening silencing from the presidency, President Jacob Zuma finally shared his sentiments about the xenophobic attacks with the nation at Parliament on Thursday. Zuma condemned the violence, asked that South Africans remain calm and discouraged the use of social media, which he said was causing panic and heightening the negative sentiment towards migrants.
“We reiterate our view that South Africans are generally not xenophobic. If they were, we would not have such a high number of foreign nationals who have been successfully integrated into communities all over our country, in towns, cities and villages,” he said.
However, at the same time Zuma sympathised with socioeconomic justifications attackers have given for their actions.
7. DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane
Maimane condemned the xenophobic violence in Parliament, saying that the main causes of xenophobia were unemployment and inequality. “The root of this problem lies in our inability to bring about economic growth and decrease the inequality that plagues our nation,” said Maimane, adding that “we cannot allow people to brutalise others. Foreign business owners are not the enemy.”
8. EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema
Also speaking in Parliament, Malema blamed the ruling party for setting a precedence of violence, pointing to the death of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg, of the Marikana miners, and of the violent removal of the EFF from Parliament earlier this year. Malema said Zuma did not appear to be sincere in his earlier condemnation of the attacks, saying “You body language did not suggest a leader.” He also berated Zuma for failing to condemn his own son, Edward Zuma’s, anti-foreigner statements. “You cannot even whip your own son into line,” he said.
Public figures appear united in their condemnation of the xenophobic attacks and violence, but there still remains a subtle undercurrent of blaming foreign nationals, especially by government officials. This tendency to shy away from the issue, from the presidency down, can only add fuel to the fire as the homes and shops of foreign nationals burn.