n 15 March the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini reportedly called foreigners in the country “lice”, and asked them to “pack their belongings and go back to their countries.”
Few hours after, hell was let loose in Durban, the largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
By the way, KwaZulu-Natal also known as Natal is the birthplace of Inkosi Albert Luthuli, the first African and the first person from outside Europe and the Americas to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960.
But the spirit of Luthuli brotherliness may have momentarily departed Durban on that March afternoon.
The king’s controversial comment was made during a meeting on moral regeneration held at Pongola a small town with distance of about 378 kilometres from Durban.
Many people believed that the statement fuelled the attack on immigrants and the looting of their shops. This claim may be closer to the truth considering the tradition of the Zulu. In that kingdom, the king is called umlom’ ongathethi manga – the mouth that tells no lies.
So when the king speaks, his words are treated with reverence. And so when those black South Africans went after immigrants, killing them in cold blood, they might as well be obeying their king’s wish.
Edward Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s eldest son, and a Zulu has defiantly come out in support of his king’s comment. “We need to be aware that as a country we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of them [foreigners] taking over the country,” he warned his countrymen.
Though the king himself has denied making such fiery statement, saying the media “misinterpreted his words and distorts them to sell newspapers,” his denunciation came a little too late. Not fewer than seven people have been killed, and 5000 displaced in the last three weeks according to Reuters.
The wave of anti-immigrant violence which started in Durban later spread to the commercial capital, Johannesburg.
The image of how a Mozambican, Emmanuel Sithole was stabbed to death in Alexandra, a township near Johannesburg, is everywhere on the Internet.
Foreigners in South Africa believe the harrying could happen again except the government takes the issue more seriously.
The question then is why do the black South Africans find immigrants so detestable? The answer to this question may not be understood outside the South African history of Apartheid. Black South Africans have been on the fringe of the economy since 1948 when the National Party came into power. Apartheid educational policies for decades denied or limited the educational opportunities of the black majority.
“The Kwerekwere Are Stealing Our Jobs”
According to the World Values Survey, South Africans were more hostile and resistant to immigrants and refugees than citizens of any other country. “Having grown up in rural Kwazulu-Natal, I knew our nation’s disdain for immigrants,” wrote Daily Maverick columnist, Brad Cibane.
Despite the fact that the law was repealed in 1990, the country continues to grapple with the ugly legacies of its past which manifest in form of economic exclusion and abject poverty. The 2013 report by Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) confirms that half of the South African population still live in poverty.
A World Bank report described South Africa as the most unequal society in the world where the top 10 per cent of the population owning 53.8 per cent of total income and the bottom 10 per cent owning only 1.1 per cent. Aside from the high income inequality, South Africa also has high levels of unemployment.
The official figure is 24.3 per cent, but a more realistic figure is 34.6 per cent considering people who have stopped searching for job. Therefore the thought of sharing scarce jobs with foreigners does not sit well especially with the black South Africans.
“The kwerekwere are stealing our jobs,” they often say. This sentiment largely contributed to the latest outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa.
In a report released last year by the Migrating for Work Research Consortium (MiWORC), an organisation that examines migration and its impact on the South African labour market, 82 percent of the working population aged between 15 and 64 were “non-migrants”, 14 percent were “domestic migrants” who had moved between provinces in the past five years and just 4 percent could be classed as “international migrants”.Are The Immigrants “Stealing” Jobs Meant For South Africans?
The census data of 2011 puts the figure of immigrants living in South Africa at 1.7 million while the World Bank estimates they are 1.8 million.
With an official working population of 33,017,579 people, this means that around 1.2 million of them were international migrants. Of this number, Nigeria has the largest number of immigrants in the country after Zimbabwe. So much of South African jobs go to the migrants?
MiWORCs report proves wrong the assumption that foreigners are “stealing” the citizens’ job. According to MiWORC’s research, international migrants are far more likely to run their own businesses.
Eleven percent are “employers” and 21percent are classified as “self-employed”. By comparison, only 5 percent of non-migrants and domestic migrants were employers and only 9 percent of non-migrants and 7 percent of domestic migrants were self-employed.
Furthermore, Dr Zaheera Jinnah, an anthropologist and researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at Wits University noted that International migrants in South Africa are more likely to take jobs that locals are not willing to take, or find work in the informal sector.
Dr Sally Peberdy, a senior researcher at the Observatory has even contradicted the claim that international migrants dominate the informal sector. Premium Times quoted Peberdy saying, “We found that less than two out of 10 people who owned a business in the informal sector [in Johannesburg] were cross-border migrants.”
According to Peberdy:”Evidence shows that international migrants contribute to South Africa and South Africans by providing jobs, paying rent, paying VAT and providing affordable and convenient goods.”
The Observatory’s study found that foreigners contribute significantly to the South African economy.
The study shows that 31 percent of the 618 international migrant traders interviewed rented properties from South Africans. Collectively they also employed 1,223 people, of which 503 were South Africans.
Also, South African immigration and domestic law makes it hard for employers to engage foreigners, especially those who are unskilled.
The law, in addition, places a premium on employing Black South Africans. These findings have clearly invalidated the “foreigners-are -taking- our-job claim by the South Africans.
Notwithstanding, some South Africans think poverty or unemployment or frustration of their compatriots does not justify attack on fellow humans.
According to a South African journalist based in Johannesburg, Thobile Hans, those people attacking foreigners are nothing but criminals “who take advantage of real social issues on the ground.” He thinks foreigners remain target for xenophobic attack because the “government has lost the war against criminals who target African foreign nationals.”
This view resonates with the foreigners’ who claimed that police were not of any help to them when they asked for assistance. In previous attacks against foreigners in Soweto, there were widespread reports of criminal and xenophobic behaviour by some police officers assigned to stop the aggression.
A study by Themba Masuku of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation found that 87 percent of South African police officers believe that illegal immigrants are involved in crime.
Is South African Government Clueless Or Complicit?
Since the time of Durban and Johannesburg attack, South African leaders have come under fire for not taking a firm enough position against xenophobia. It would be recalled that immigrants were also attacked during “Operation Buyelekhaya” (operation go home) in 1998; again in 2000 and 2004.
Forty-seven Somalis were killed in 2006 and 62 immigrants were killed in Alexandra and other Johannesburg townships in 2008. After the 2008 xenophobic attack, former president Thabo Mbeki expressed deep regret and offered apology on behalf of his country.
Then he pledged: “We will do everything possible and necessary to ensure that we have no need in future to proffer this humble apology, which is inspired by genuine remorse.” Seven years after, not much has been seen to be done until another attack happened in March.
In the same manner, President Jacob Zuma has also spoken out against the acts. He went as far as reminded his compatriots that many South Africans had sought refuge in other countries during apartheid and had been treated with respect and dignity. He therefore called for the same treatment to be extended to foreigners seeking refuge in the country at the moment. The government has also deployed solders to various townships in order to protect the immigrants. It remains to be seen how long this protection will last.
Regardless of the quick response by President Zuma, many Nigerians have however condemned South African government for treating the erring citizens with kid gloves.
Speaking recently on Channels, Nigeria’s former Foreign Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi said government of South Africa is not doing enough to stop the “distasteful actions”.
Going back memory lane, he said: “I was involved in the anti-apartheid struggle as the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International affairs (NIIA); I was part of those who came up with Liberation Fund. We forced civil servants to donate a percentage of their salary monthly, and for some reasons, secondary schools and university students made also a donation.”
He said Nigerian play host to other nationals too including South Africans.
“We exchange population all the time and nobody has claims that because of that you are entitled to pick up guns, stones cudgels and go on a murdering spree.
Advising on the way forward, he said it is high time Nigeria sit the South Africa down and tell her that there could be a cost to this kind of xenophobic behaviour.
“It is unacceptable, it is intolerable. Our people should be killed over there and we will not reply because 6, 000 people are employed by one of their companies here; I don’t buy into that kind of mentality.
“If they are going to hurt our people and hurt the interest of our people, then they should be prepared for retaliation.
“I think Nigerians should let these people know that this thing is a quid pro quo; you treat me well, I treat you well.”
Similarly, Professor of International Law, University of Lagos, Akin Oyebode has hinted on the need for Nigeria to invoke international law against South Africa.
“Under international law, South Africa is obliged to respect and protect all aliens domiciled in its territory,” he said. But having failed to do that, he pointed out that South Africa can be dragged before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with a view to seeking reparations for the breach of the rights of the victims of unwarranted attacks. He said the option of reprisal action or retorsion is open to Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Nigerians have estimated their loss totaling N21 million (R1.2 million).
The Nigeria consul general Uche Ajulu-Okeke in SA has assured the victims that the report contains value of the loss would be sent to the federal government for further action.
While other affected countries such as Zimbabwe, Malawi, Somalia and Ethiopia have expressed their readiness to evacuate their citizens from South Africa with a promise to hit back at South Africa if the attack continues , A Nigeria-based NGO, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has dragged the king, Zwelithini, to the International Criminal Court.
The Executive Director of SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, in the petition to International Criminal Court (ICC) noted that it “considers the use of speech by the Zulu King to promote hatred and/or incite violence against non-nationals such as Nigerians, particularly in the media as a clear violation of the provisions of the Rome Statute of International Criminal Court.
In the words of Prof Oyebode, the Zulu king indeed stands accused before ICC.
According to him, the cases against Milosevic, Charles Taylor, Uhuru Kenyatta, Akayesu, and others could serve as precedents. Yet SERAP’s attempt to tests the law against genocide on Zwelithini’s incendiary comment may be a long shot.
Whatever the outcome at the ICC, South Africa may continue to stand accused for the blood of the innocent shed at Mandelaland.
They fought for people’s freedom in 1994, but when we talk of South Africans in 2015 we talk of people who do not want to listen, who do not want to work, who are thieves, child rapists and housebreakers.
The King’s Speech That Caused The Attack
Both King Dinizulu and king Cetshwayo were arrested for fighting for our country Zulu our country’s freedom.
People who are lazy, and who do not want to plough the field.
When foreigners look at them, they will say let us exploit the nation of idiots.
As I speak, you find their unsightly goods all over our shops, they dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shops is which, there are foreigners everywhere. I know it is hard for other politicians to challenge this, because they are after their votes.
Please forgive me but this is my responsibility, I must talk, I cannot wait for five years to say this. As king of the Zulu nation, which is respected worldwide because of the role it played in fighting for freedom in Africa. I will not keep quiet when people who have no opinion lead our country.
It is time to say something. I ask our government to help us fix our problems, help us find our own solutions…we ask foreign national to pack their belongings and go back to their countries.”