Is this the South Africa Mandela fought for?

Over the last two weeks foreign nationals living in South Africa have been stoned in the streets and displaced from their homes. With five deaths and hundreds injured, foreigners are fearing for their lives as the violence continues. These events have been debatably called acts of xenophobia or ‘afrophobia’.

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 Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, made a speech in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal near the end of March in which he complained about crime and the dirty streets of South Africa. The speech was recorded and translated by eNCA. In the translation the king says that immigrants must “take their bags and go.”

Since then some South Africans have incited violence against foreigners with the king’s words in mind. Chanting “the king has spoken” as they run ramped through the streets stoning foreigners.

Some South Africans have blamed foreigners of taking their jobs and opportunities. Humanitarian aid group Gift of the Givers named the high levels of poverty, unemployment and other socio-economic issue to be the cause of the xenophobic attack “but no matter what the grievances, violence is unacceptable.”

On Monday there was a massive mob of about 2 000 people who took to the streets of Durban and looted the shops of foreign nationals while physically assaulting them. In the hype of the event three South Africans were killed along with two foreigners. Among the killed was a 14-year-old boy who was shot during the looting and died in hospital.

Since then the violence has spread across the country but taken a more solid grip in the Gauteng province.

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Throughout this week xenophobic attacks took place in Johannesburg CBD, Primrose and hit Benoni the hardest on Thursday afternoon. Shops of foreigners have been set on fire, people have been stoned, threatened and forced out of their homes. An anti-xenophobia march in Durban, where thousands attended, ended in mayhem as the police started firing tear gas and water cannons at the crows.

President Jacob Zuma addressed the country on Wednesday condemning the act where people are attacked and killed. Zuma called the current violent events in the country unacceptable. “We cannot accept that when there are challenges we use violence, particularly to our brothers and sisters from the continent.” He also promised that his government will look into the complaint of illegal and undocumented migrants who take over businesses and perpetrate crime.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Ahmed Kathrada Foundation welcomed the efforts by the Zuma government to put a stop to the conflict, but added: “For too long, South Africans in leadership positions have either ignored the crisis or stoked the fires of hatred.”

Authorities of African countries, such as Malawi and Zimbabwe, are appalled by the attacks and are making plans to get their people out of South Africa. Zimbabwean Environment Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, took to Twitter saying that the xenophobic attack in South Africa were a shame on Africans and sad. Another Zimbabwean minister also took to social media saying that the attacks are worse than apartheid.

Mozambicans have responded to the xenophobic attacks in South Africa Friday night, by throwing South Africans with rocks and chasing them to the border. A South African truck driver, John Mashiloane, said that when he wanted to return to Mozambique on Saturday morning a mob of about 300 people were waiting just across the border and threw his truck with stones once again. This border post has been barricaded by Mozambicans since Friday night, not allowing anyone through the post.

Although one cannot pin-point one specific thing that has caused this violence in South Africa, it is clear that no matter what the cause, the reaction is making Mandela turn in his grave. The legendary freedom fighter’s work, success and views are being challenged by the South Africans participating in these attacks. If foreigners, especially African foreigners, are not accepted in South Africa, is it truly a Rainbow Nation?

Published: The News Hub on 20 April 2015

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