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South Africa: We should be burning vitriol not people

Five foreign nationals have already been brutally murdered by South Africans in a recent spate of xenophobic violence. Undeniably, there are many reasons this has happened, some more controllable than others. This mob violence, however, cannot be viewed in isolation from the recent highly flammable utterances by South African leadership.

As images of blood-soaked shirts, broken bones, crying children and machete-baring mobs circulate South African media, we cannot simply shake our heads in disapproval, nor can we view these events in isolation to the flammable comments made by South African leadership.

Some people are only just hearing about this new wave of xenophobia that is sweeping through Durban as we speak. For those living there, in the heat of it all, this abhorrent treatment of African nationals has been brewing for some time. Six days ago, around 300 foreign nationals took to the streets, driven to protest out of desperation and fear. Permission was granted for the protest, and then retracted, on the grounds that the police could not guarantee their safety. They were right: the marchers were left soaked to the skin after being fired at by water cannons filled with blue dye.

Xenophobia is not new to South Africa. In 2008, 67 foreign nationals were brutally murdered, sending shockwaves through the country. With this in mind, it is wholeheartedly unacceptable that South African leadership has repeatedly made public, insensitive xenophobic statements that incited further violence. They need to use their status and influence in society to retract their comments, condemn the xenophobic attacks and urgently address the communities in which the attacks are spreading.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini. Source:enca

The Comments

“We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.” These are the words of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made towards the end of March. Not long before his flammable comment, xenophobic killings had already begun making their way through Soweto and KwaZulu-Natal.

“The South African Human Rights Commission can arrest me for my comments, it’s fine,” said our President’s son, Edward Zuma, who came out in defense of Zwelithini’s remarks. “I am not the citizen of President Jacob Zuma. I am a citizen of South Africa. My thinking is independent to that of the president. South Africa is known for being a very friendly country, but we are also unnecessarily accommodating illegal immigrants in this country. We [South Africa] needs to stop being soft. Some of them are hiding behind the United Nations Human Rights.”

On Friday April 10, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko (who is part of a presidential-appointed team to address the xenophobic violence) said the serious crimes in South Africa were mostly committed by undocumented people. Mr Nhleko told the newspaper that he met the Zulu king and that they agreed that criminal attacks on foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal had followed King Zwelithini’s statement.

And, on 13 April,  ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe called for foreigners to simply be put in refugee camps.

The Petition

Such obviously provocative, irresponsible and influential comments can not be left unchallenged. Would more lives have been spared, and fewer displaced, had then President Mbeki not denied that the murders sweeping through our country in 2008 were in fact xenophobic?

Undeniably, there are countless issues facing the accommodation and integration of foreigners into South Africa. The comments made by Zwelithini, Zuma, Nhleko and Mantashe are not viewed as the only catalysts triggering the inhuman killings and treatment of foreign nationals in South Africa. But, they are indicative of a blatant, insensitive, recklessness and cruel superiority with which these leaders are conducting themselves, and those that they are able to influence.

Zimbabwean man badly injured after a xenophobic attack. Source: bulawayo24

This petition, therefore, condemns the abovementioned comments. It calls on Zwelithini, Zuma, Nhleko and Mantashe to:

  • retract their statements
  • publicly address the communities engaged in xenophobic hysteria
  • condemn the hateful acts that have already taken the lives African nationals, and to call for an immediate end to the killings, displacement, intimidation and intolerance.

We need our leadership to accept full responsibility of the influence they have over the already combustible environment in South Africa. We will not silently stand by as political leaders spit out vitriol like the very petrol that doused the containers shops of Somalian brothers Alex and Tescma Marcus in Umlazi on Friday, burning their flesh and taking the life of  22-year-old Tescma who had only been in South Africa for four months.

Ethiopian national Alex Marcus recovering in hospital after his shop was burnt in uMlazi township. Photo: Tebogo Letsie/Sunday Times via timeslive

“I was crying inside the container as I was burning,” said Alex.

The only things we need to see burning are the denialism of xenophobia, and South African leadership’s blatant and flippant commentary surrounding the cruel murders of our African brothers and sisters.

Our names on this petition act as stamps of disgust and disapproval of the xenophobia tainting our beautiful country. We call on South African leadership to act with urgency, sensitivity and humanity. Join the campaign here.

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