Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE Government has engaged South African authorities over recent xenophobic remarks attributed to Johannesburg mayor Mr Herman Mashaba labelling all foreigners in the neighbouring country criminals and illegal immigrants.
Zimbabwe’s Consular General, Mr Batiraishe Henry Mukonoweshuro, in an interview yesterday, said the embassy has raised a red flag over Mr Mashaba’s “reckless” utterances.
“We have engaged the South African Home Affairs Minister (Malusi) Gigaba over the sentiments by Johannesburg mayor, which sparked an outcry among foreigners. He is alleged to have said that the South African government had opened borders to criminals‚” he said.
Mr Mukonoweshuro said he has since requested a meeting with Mr Mashaba over his remarks, which, the Zimbabwean envoy says, are likely to incite xenophobic attacks.
“I requested to meet him (Mr Mashaba) so that I get a better understanding on his alleged utterances and their basis and he said he will only arrange the meeting next year. “
As diplomats we don’t want to directly meddle in the internal affairs [of host countries], which is precisely why we had to first engage the Department of Home Affairs and we hope the Minister will help us to come to an understanding in as far as this issue is concerned,” he said.
Mr Mashaba, at the beginning of the month, stated in his 100 days in office address that illegal immigrants living in Johannesburg must be treated as criminals since they had come to South Africa illegally and that they should leave the city immediately.
Mr Mashaba was elected on an opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) ticket. Minister Gigaba, in response, condemned the mayor’s remarks, saying his ministry was disturbed by Mr Mashaba’s utterances, which are likely to fan xenophobia.
The Minister said the government viewed the comments as unfortunate.
Mr Gigaba last week met the mayor and discussed the government’s policy and interventions in relation to the management of international migration.
Mr Mashaba, however, stuck to his guns, saying he has no regrets about his remarks that illegal immigrants should vacate the city. During the meeting, Mr Gigaba defended the immigrants, saying they contributed meaningfully to the country’s economy.
“The overwhelming numbers of immigrants coming into South Africa‚ are documented. Not all immigrants were in the country for the wrong reasons. They are making a positive contribution to the South African economy and provide critical skills,” he said.
The minister‚ mayor and other government stakeholders will have a follow up meeting early next year at which they will look at “specific problems and challenges” that the City of Johannesburg is facing.
Mr Mashaba reportedly told a media conference in Johannesburg that the South African government had opened borders to criminals‚ but the DA would change all that if it takes over national government in 2019. In October, Mr Mashaba called for the strengthening of border policing, saying South Africa needed to be protected from illegal immigrants.
Last year, King Goodwill Zwelithini was taken to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for similar comments after he had accused the government of failing to protect locals from the “influx of foreign nationals”. The king later denied making those comments and the SAHRC found him not guilty of hate speech.
Last year in April, Zimbabweans, among other nationals were caught up in a wave of xenophobic attacks by South Africans. The violent attacks started in South Africa’s Isipingo located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal before spreading to Gauteng and other provinces, leaving thousands displaced from their homes and up to five people dead.