Lovemore Mataire and Nyemudzai Kakore—
The African Union has described xenophobic attacks in South Africa as “unacceptable,” and called for an immediate halting of violence against African immigrants. The AU spoke amid deafening silence from Western nations that are usually first off the block at the slightest skirmish, real or contrived, in Zimbabwe
The attacks continued spreading yesterday with hoodlums descending on an anti-xenophobia march in Durban while in Benoni, Gauteng, police fired rubber bullets at hostel dwellers trying to break into foreign-owned shops.
AU Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement issued on the continental body’s website that the attacks were particularly unfortunate, especially when Africa Day celebrations were approaching.
“Whatever the challenges we may be facing, no circumstances justify attacks on people, whether foreigners or locals,” she said.
“It is unacceptable. On 25 May we remember the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, which played such a critical role in mobilising international solidarity for the end of apartheid.”
Dr Dlamini-Zuma said the challenges faced by South Africa of poverty and unemployment were common to all African countries and it was important that citizens work together in finding solutions in order to build a better future for all Africans.
She appealed for dialogue in communities to address the challenges and find lasting and peaceful solutions.
While calling for an immediate halt to the attacks, Dr Dlamini-Zuma welcomed interventions by the South African government, including the deployment of an Inter-Ministerial committee to KwaZulu-Natal to engage with those affected, and with local communities, as well as the deployment of more police details to provide protection and maintain law and order.
Former United Nations Human Rights Commission Navi Pillay said in an interview with SABC News that South Africa should come up with policies to protect foreign nationals living in the country.
“They (foreign nationals) didn’t come in, they were let in by the government, the borders were open, they were let in,” she said. “So, there is a need for a national policy when you have open door migration that you ensure that there are services provided for them, that the rights of migrants are protected.”
South African President Jacob Zuma called for peaceful co-existence of locals and foreigners in his country’s Parliament yesterday.
President Zuma said South Africans should be conscious of the contributions of other African countries in the dismantling of apartheid.
He said refugees and asylum seekers would be accorded support in line with international law and protocols.
“Our country stands firmly against all intolerance such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism,” he said. “We extend our condolences to the families of all those who have lost their lives and wish the injured speed recovery.
“We were treated with generosity, dignity and respect by our brothers and sisters from the rest of the continent. We will never forget that Africa and the Organisation of African Unity was critical to the achievement of democracy we are enjoying today.”
In comments that seem to have riled a lot of observers, President Zuma refused to label the ongoing attacks of foreign nationals as xenophobic.
He said the attacks were generally not xenophobic given the large numbers of foreign nationals who have successfully integrated in the society.
President Zuma attributed the flaring of violence to socio-economic issues needing urgent attention.
Five people have died in Durban, including one Zimbabwean, in the xenophobic attacks that were apparently incited by a public speech delivered by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini who called for foreigners to be removed from South Africa.
He laballed foreigners as lice and ants which need to be removed and put in the sun.