In a recent speech, Julius Malema, party leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, said that Duduzane Zuma, the son of former president Jacob Zuma, was not a “proper” South African citizen and was unable to speak any of the vernacular languages because of his foreign (Mozambican and Swazi) upbringing. In addition, Floyd Shivambu, an EFF member of parliament, caused a stir when he questioned the citizenship of South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, based on the latter’s “darker” skin.

These alarming statements smack of xenophobia and have triggered debate online and offline. Many view these reckless utterances by the two popular leaders as a direct attack on the values of Africanism and ubuntu.

The EFF leader, a fierce proponent of pan-Africanism, stated that Duduzane Zuma was “not South African enough” because he was born in Mozambique and that was why he was a criminal.

In a radio interview, Malema was quoted as saying: “They [Duduzane and Duduzile Zuma] can’t speak any of the South African vernacular languages. Duduzane is not a proper South African. They were born in Mozambique, stayed in Swaziland and then Zimbabwe. They came to reside here [in South Africa] with their father.

“For Duduzane to leave the country, it’s very easy because they don’t have a history of settling in one place … Their loyalty and patriotism is not with South Africa; that’s why that boy could do as he wished. It’s not his country of birth, they were not born here,” Malema added.

Read: Cde Mbalula. Self-Righteousness Does Not Make South Africa Exceptional

Malema’s comments were heavily criticised by a former governor of the Reserve Bank of South Africa, Tito Mboweni, who said in a tweet: “So, Mr Julius Malema, my homeboy, says that our kids who were born during our exile years are not ‘real South Africans’. One of my sons was born in Lesotho when I was in exile. So…. Be careful homeboy of what you say. My son is as South African as all other kids. Be careful….”

The next outburst came from the EFF party’s deputy, Floyd Shivambu, who remarked that Minister Malusi Gigaba was “too dark” to be a South African and was a criminal, so he had to be a Zimbabwean.

File picture: Swearing-in ceremony of the new cabinet, 26 May 2014. Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba is sworn in at a ceremony held at Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria. (Photo: GCIS). Photo: GovernmentZA/Flickr

These statements, made by two self-proclaimed pan-Africanists, suggesting that criminals could not hail from South Africa but had to be from other African countries, betray the very values that their party stands for or purport to be representing. Attributing criminality to foreigners from other African countries has constantly been used by South African officials in reckless populist gestures that leave a sour taste in the mouth. In 2017, the former Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, said that the criminals in Johannesburg were ex-soldiers from Zimbabwe, as if to blame all of South Africa’s problems on foreigners.

Such negative statements, especially by senior political leaders in South Africa, date back to the early 1990s. And in 2003, the then Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, described the influx of “illegal immigrants” as his “biggest headache”. In his introductory speech to Parliament, he explicitly stated that “aliens” who were “pouring into South Africa” would hamper economic growth.

Read: New UNISA Chancellor Thabo Mbeki condemns xenophobic attacks

A false sense of superiority

It is regrettable that such irresponsible xenophobic sentiments, especially on the part of national leaders, have been exhibited for a while now. In the past, it has triggered xenophobic violence against foreign nationals that have left thousands displaced or dead and property destroyed.

Samora Machel Photo: invent-the-future.org

In my opinion, some leaders in South Africa are still suffering from a colonial and apartheid hangover and they live in the fantasy of a superiority complex. As high-profile political figures in South Africa, they should be leading by example and avoid making such irresponsible statements.

It is a very rich irony that countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique are being stereotyped while these were the very countries that provided sanctuary to exiled ANC leaders.

South Africa’s false sense of superiority in their dealings with other African nations, mainly caused by the country’s economic dominance on the continent, has also led to this kind of negative stereotyping of foreign nationals in South Africa. It has reached the extent where the term “African” is used to describe people from other African countries. This shows how residual elements of colonialist thinking has become conflated with the superiority complex that positions South Africa as a so-called “first world” country that shares borders with “poor African” countries. This tendency serves to explain then President Zuma’s remarks in 2013 about why his government was introducing unpopular road tolls to pay for a massive upgrade to the Gauteng province’s motorways: “We can’t think like Africans in Africa generally. We are in Johannesburg. This is Johannesburg,” he said. “It is not some national road in Malawi. No.”

Afrophobia: South Africa betrays legacy of Ubuntu and Pan-Africanism champions. Cartoon: Damien Glez

Zuma’s statements reinforced the inflated sense of self-worth displayed by certain leaders in South Africa and the stereotyping of other African countries – a category to which Malema and Shivambu now also belong.   

Disregarding history

If anything, these comments show a lack of the most basic understanding of the history of the African people before colonisation, which created these borders. It is therefore deeply regrettable when the measure of your patriotism is your skin tone and when criminality is determined by the geography of your birthplace. What has happened to pan-Africanism? What has happened to the dreams of Senghor and Cabral and to Thabo Mbeki’s clarion call of “I am an African”? The words of Malema and Shivambu are a betrayal of the values of African pride. In fact, they mimic apartheid and the colonialist behaviour that divided the continent by thus labelling tribes and drawing borders as a part of the “divide and rule” tactic.

Some leaders in South Africa are still suffering from a colonial and apartheid hangover and live in the fantasy of a superiority complex.

What is on display here is a deliberate ignorance of the historical universality of the struggle against apartheid and how it was supported by many African countries. It is a very rich irony that countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique are now being stereotyped or face such exclusionary rhetoric from the likes of Malema and Shivambu while these were the very countries that provided sanctuary to exiled ANC leaders. The fight against apartheid, especially from an African perspective, was to ensure the total liberation of all African states. The dream was that of pan-African unity, where tribal and even national segregation would not be first and foremost. Malema and Shivambu would do well to remember that.