Former South African President, Thabo Mbeki was inaugurated as the new Chancellor of the University of South Africa (UNISA) this week. Mbeki replaced Judge Bernard Ngoepe who served as Chancellor for 15 years. Mbeki, who is regarded as one of the foremost intellectuals both in South Africa and in the continent is also well known and respected for popularising the concept of African Renaissance.

Mbeki’s inauguration as Chancellor came at a time when fresh xenophobic attacks were launched against African immigrants in Pretoria. In his speech Mbeki said with regards to the recent xenophobic attacks, “I must express my great concerns at events which took place in this city last week, in the context of what was reported as an anti-immigrant march”.

A group of protesters trying to displace immigrants were confronted by police as they attempted to enter a predominantly Somali neighbourhood in Pretoria West. Police separated the groups and released stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Photo: Groundup

The former president added, “As South Africans, we should never forget the enormous sacrifices that were made by the sister peoples of Africa to help us achieve our liberation, and cannot now behave in a manner that treats other fellow Africans, who are now residents in our country, as enemies or unwelcomed guests. And neither should we commit the offense of viewing or characterising African migrants in our country as criminals”.

Read: Nigerians strongly react to xenophobic attacks in South Africa

Mbeki further advised, “When our communities discover or suspect criminal activities in their areas, regardless of the nationality of the alleged criminal or criminals, they must be report this to the Police Service. The police service itself has an absolute obligation to follow up on these community reports thus to avoid people taking the law into their own hands.”

Those who organise and participate in these attacks, which must stop, must know that there is absolutely nothing revolutionary, progressive, patriotic, acceptable or of service to the people in what are, in fact, criminal activities.

Mbeki’s remarks have been widely applauded. The former president went on to say, “All of us know that our country faces many socio-economic challenges such as poverty and unemployment. Not even one of these problems can or will be solved by attacking fellow Africans who have joined us as migrants. Those who organise and participate in these attacks, which must stop, must know that there is absolutely nothing revolutionary, progressive, patriotic, acceptable or of service to the people in what are, in fact, criminal activities.”

Immigrants locked themselves in a home as the violence spread. Photo: Groundup

Mbeki’s words come at a time when President Jacob Zuma claimed the attacks against the immigrants were not xenophobic. The denial has been widely criticized across the continent.

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The recent xenophobic attacks have spurred the Nigerian parliament to call for sanctions on South Africa, claiming that the Federal Government of Nigeria was not taking the measures the Nigerian people wanted. A group of parliamentarians will be visiting the Nigerian community in South Africa.

Various Twitter users have been posted their comments following the inauguration of Mbeki as the new Chancellor of UNISA.