As Zimbabweans we have to be as diplomatic as possible in handling the issue of xenophobia for South Africa has stood with us in our hour of greatest need in the past 15 years

As Zimbabweans we have to be as diplomatic as possible in handling the issue of xenophobia for South Africa has stood with us in our hour of greatest need in the past 15 years

Joram Nyathi Spectrum

So long as a majority of South Africans remain foreigners to the national economy, attacks against fellow Africans shall be a recurrent theme, thus furthering white interests by keeping us divided while they consolidate their regional blocs, whether military or economic

A CRISIS situation is often better served by reason than loud mouths. Zimbabwe seems more gifted in the latter department where we are quick to blame. The South African government is being accused of failing to respond appropriately to the spreading attacks on African foreigners in that country.

As fate would have it, when it is not your direct responsibility to resolve a crisis, the solution appears very simple, hence the self-righteous anger we indulge when those who must act don’t seem to act as fast as we think they should.

But the truth seems to be that a social crisis which is amenable to a very simple solution was never a crisis in the first place.

The xenophobic hysteria sweeping across South Africa calls for sober heads; it should never be taken as a matter for the public gallery in the heat of emotion. We share a lot in common with South Africa than any other country in the region.

And the Zanu-PF Government has itself often been subjected to attacks over violence which had nothing to do with official policy. The same with xenophobia in SA.

There is nothing redeeming about what King Zwelithini is reported to have said, and this is the gist of it, according to a Gagasi FM audio: “We must remove these lice from our heads and let them burn in the sun. All foreigners in South Africa are lice.”

South African ambassador to Zimbabwe Vusi Mavimbela told local reporters on Wednesday that his country did not have the capacity to handle widespread spontaneous attacks on foreigners.

“The police, really, to be honest,” said Mavimbela, “if this thing spreads, the police don’t have the physical capacity to be everywhere and to arrest everybody who is involved.”

By yesterday police had reportedly arrested more than 70 people in connection with the latest attacks on African foreigners.

King Zwelithini’s comments expose a deep-seated sickness in his leadership. The victims have been fellow Africans. This was patently the intention. Whites call themselves European even on their IDs but have never been attacked by this African king.

The only people qualifying to be “foreigners” who must be killed like lice are Africans. In the modern era of bilateral alliances between nations, regional blocs and dreams of a more close-knit Africa, how does an African king call fellow Africans “foreigners” in an African country without casting himself as an undesirable relic from a bygone era?

But the anger by South Africans is not purely xenophobia as in fear or hatred of foreigners. It reflects unfulfilled economic expectations by South Africa’s poor.

There have been reports of clashes between South Africans and migrant workers from neighbouring countries and beyond over job opportunities. Locals feel their jobs are being taken away.

We are talking here about ordinary people whose frustrations cannot be assuaged by reminders that fellow Africans sacrificed for the independence they enjoy.

They simply have not reaped the dividend of an independent South Africa.

Turning against fellow blacks is almost reflexive because of the contempt we feel for the familiar.

Between them and the whites and the capitalist system which denies them access to the nation’s resources are impregnable barriers, starting with the constitution.

While a few of their countrymen have benefited from affirmative action policies such as black economic empowerment, South Africa remains a largely white economy, the real foreigner who foments anger among black South Africans but magically directs that rage towards fellow Africans.

There is no way King Zwelithini’s “foreigners” could be mistaken to include white capitalists who have refused to let go of African farms, mines and other resources, a system which has rendered South Africa’s independence such a hollow dream and given rise to the Julius Malema phenomenon and his Economic Freedom Fighters.

The best constitution in the world is living up to its ultimate purpose — the biggest albatross on the neck of black South Africans. We are fortunate in Zimbabwe that our own Constitution came after the land revolution.

So long as a majority of South Africans remain foreigners to the national economy, attacks against fellow Africans shall be a recurrent theme, thus furthering white interests by keeping us divided while they consolidate their regional blocs, whether military or economic.

Ghost of Marikana

Ambassador Mavimbela’s statement that the police don’t have the physical capacity to contain the marauding crowds doesn’t reflect weakness or inability.

At the basic level, that might appear to be the case. But it is always difficult to contain sporadic, unplanned attacks. Police will always be outnumbered because it is not possible to tell where the next flashpoint is going to be.

But there is a fundamental underlying issue. Zimbabwe is still haunted by the ghost of dissidents and gukurahundi, Nigeria is confronted by Boko Haram and South Africa itself is tormented by Marikana.

In their different formulations and articulation, these separate incidents present challenges for constitutional authorities: how to gauge the extent of an emerging social menace and decide what the appropriate police power is to deal with it without infringing on the rights of communities directly affected.

It is no secret that while many Zimbabweans have been very critical of the way former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan handled the Boko Haram menace, none would support something that reminded them of the Gukurahundi madness.

Similarly, while there is a feeling in Zimbabwe that the South African government is not acting robustly to stop xenophobic attacks against fellow Africans, none would want a repeat of the Marikana massacre of August 2012.

Question is: What constitutional government would want to be accused of killing its own people in order to protect “foreigners” already ordered ejected by the king? Do you order the police to shoot to kill? Do you bring in the army to deal with the rowdy, murderous crowds?

Yesterday President Jacob Zuma addressed parliament in which he acknowledged the big contribution of foreign nationals to South Africa’s independence and currently to its economic development. He condemned violence against foreign nationals “in the strongest possible terms”.

He said security cluster ministers had been tasked to deal with the violence which has spread from the epicentre in Durban in the east coast to Johannesburg.

Whether that will do the trick or not remains a moot question. What is important is that Zimbabwe ensures as far as possible the security of its nationals in South Africa. Those who want to come back must be assisted to do so.

That means we have to be as diplomatic as possible in handling the issue of violent attacks against Zimbabweans. We have a shared future with South Africa.

We cannot forget how our southern neighbour has stood with us in our hour of greatest need in the past 15 years as Zimbabwe worked through a painful process of taking control of its natural resources and indigenising the economy, an economy which previously served only a racial white minority.

While we are suffering the pain of recovery, South Africa is yet to confront the real demon of economic inequality, poverty and unemployment which are the root causes of the current xenophobic mayhem against fellow Africans, leaving the pillars of the apartheid economy untouched.

Happy 35th anniversary Zimbabwe.