Zwelithini has role to play in fighting xenophobia

King Goodwill Zwelithini

King Goodwill Zwelithini

King Goodwill Zwelithini must “actively participate” in dialogue between South Africans and cross-border migrants to improve social cohesion in the country.

This is one of the recommendations in the preliminary report of the parliamentary ad hoc committee probing violence against foreign nationals.

The report, which was discussed yesterday, was due to be adopted this afternoon.

The committee was established earlier this year after xenophobic attacks flared up in parts of the country. At least seven people died.

The violence erupted shortly after Zwelithini’s controversial Pongola speech in which he told foreigners to go home. His remarks were widely reported in the media and condemned by civic groups as inciting xenophobia. The Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into his comments.

Under pressure, Zwelithini condemned xenophobic attacks weeks later, but insisted that he had been misquoted by the media.

In the preliminary parliamentary report, the ad hoc committee noted Zwelithini’s remarks and the media reports, but said the comments were never called out by any foreigners.

“Caution was however needed by persons in positions of authority to ensure that language which could incite prejudicial violence was avoided at all costs.”

The committee recommended that in order to promote stronger and more integrated communities, Zwelithini should initiate dialogue between South Africans and foreigners and be actively involved in those discussions.

“The state should unequivocally condemn comments by persons in positions of authority and influence which may amount to incitement to violence,” said the report.

The committee also found that:

- Unlike the 2008 incidents, this year’s xenophobic violence was aimed at “businesses and their goods rather than people”;
- The main causes for the attacks were low economic growth, inequality, poverty, unemployment and increasing pressure on basic services and facilities;
- As many as 50 percent of the 5 million to 6 million immigrants in South Africa were in the country illegally — but large-scale repatriation was not an option;
- The main cause of violence against foreigners was socio-economical, but the triggers were often labour disputes, opportunistic crime and xenophobic prejudice; and
- The migration of foreigners to South Africa had increased significantly since 2008 – it had also increased pressure on job seekers.

The committee found that the overall high crime rate, inequality and competition for scarce resources had had a negative effect on South Africans and foreigners.

“The committee concluded that South Africans are generally not xenophobic and causes for violence are primarily socio-economic, affecting all those in the country as highlighted by the fact that two out of the seven persons killed in the recent attacks were South African,” said the report.

The committee also recommended that:

- All government departments, headed by the minister of arts and culture, promote social cohesion;
- The premiers of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal need to monitor work permits;
- The special courts on violence against foreign nationals should be re-established;
- The minister of police should consider better protection for migrants and refugees; and
- The minister of labour should standardise labour practices to prevent employers exploiting foreigners for cheap labour and thus create an uneven market. — AP

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