Temba Dube Deputy News Editor—
SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma yesterday brewed fresh controversy when he appeared to blame a wave of xenophobic attacks that recently rocked Durban and Johannesburg on his country’s neighbours. Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia repatriated hundreds of their citizens caught up in the violence, but victims also included immigrants from further afield, including Nigerians.
Official government figures show seven people have been killed in the attacks, but eyewitness accounts seem to suggest there could be more.
In his Freedom Day address to mark South Africa’s 21st independence anniversary, Zuma took a swipe at countries that have criticised his government for the violence targeted at migrants.
Zuma, digressing from his prepared speech, fired a salvo at critics asking: “As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries and in South Africa?”
Zuma appeared to be particularly piqued by Nigeria’s decision to recall its acting High Commissioner Martin Cobham and Deputy High Commissioner Uche Ajulu-Okeke in protest over attacks on its citizens.
Continuing with his off-the-cuff remarks, Zuma said apartheid had left a legacy of psychological sickness in South Africans, which needed healing.
“Apartheid was a violent system and it produced violent counter-measures to it. So people still believe that to fight authority you must fight government . . . They get excited, they burn the tyres; they block the roads; they destroy property exercising their rights, but interfering with the rights of many,” he said.
He said the African Union’s push to promote peace, stability and democracy in every corner of the continent will in the long run reduce the need for people to migrate “towards the South”.
“The promotion of intra-Africa trade, regional integration, infrastructure and other economic interventions is also designed to improve the economic situation in sister countries,” said Zuma.
Analysts yesterday said Zuma’s comments laid the foundation for the demise of his country.
Renowned social commentator Cont Mhlanga said South Africa would soon degenerate into chaos “because its young people have been taught to kill people who are richer than them.”
“Zuma and company are preparing their young ones to kill their own people. The problem in South Africa is deeper than xenophobia, as the country shall soon find out,” Mhlanga observed.
He said the real issue in the neighbouring country was a skewed wealth distribution that left a few citizens extremely rich while the majority wallowed in poverty.
He said the economic model that the country inherited from the apartheid era would be its undoing.
“Very soon these young people will realise that foreigners aren’t the problem. They will soon be demanding their share in blood, from fellow citizens,” said the playwright.
He said the youth were being sharpened for murder and would bring the country’s economy to its knees when their anger finally boiled over.
“Zuma shouldn’t pretend to be dull. South Africa will get a rude awakening if they don’t solve their problem urgently. No country, even America, can survive without migrant labour. Zuma’s comments are even more unfortunate, considering that he was once a refugee here in Zimbabwe, staying in Umguza,” said Mhlanga.
He said Zuma should remember that his ruling ANC was partly to blame for Gukurahundi — the 1980s disturbances in Matabeleland in which the government deployed troops following the discovery of arms caches.
Mhlanga said most of the arms that were found at PF-Zapu farms belonged to the ANC that was being helped by Zimbabweans to fight apartheid.
Information, Media and Broadcasting Services Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo weighed in on Twitter:
“President Zuma’s Freedom Day speech has controversial remarks given recent xenophobic attacks in SA.
“Zuma says AU peace and democracy efforts in Africa ‘will in the long run reduce the need for people to migrate towards the South’. Really?”
Lawton Hikwa, an analyst with the National University of Science and Technology, was more sympathetic to Zuma, insisting his candid comments would force African countries to introspect.
“I don’t think it was his aim to denigrate other countries. It’s a wake-up call to fix our economies so that our people don’t find South Africa that attractive,” he said.
Last week, Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi reproached Zuma for saying Zimbabweans filled South African jails.
Mohadi said he was irked that Zuma singled out Zimbabweans when it was apparent that other nationals in that country committed crimes — a majority of whom were South African.
Prominent lawyer Terrence Hussein slammed Zuma saying his comments reflected lack of tact and a lack of control of the situation that was spiralling out of control in his country.
Zimbabwe’s latest labour statistics released by the government statistical agency, Zimstat, show that South Africa contributes the highest proportion of migrant labour in Zimbabwe.
It shows the neighbouring country contributes 45 percent of the 78,000 foreigners working in the country.
Malawi and Mozambique are the next, contributing 22 percent and 15 percent respectively.