By Tichaona Zindoga
JOHANNESBURG-THE latest round of violence taking place against mainly African nationals has received widespread condemnation and former President Thabo Mbeki is the latest high-ranking figure to express disquiet at the flare ups.
Violence against African immigrants has taken place in the past fortnight, as locals in parts of Gauteng and Pretoria have waged war on foreign Africans accusing them of crime, prostitution and peddling drugs.
It has also emerged that some local politicians are ramping up emotions among impoverished communities to score populist points in what is increasingly seen as the third force driving attacks on other Africans.
Gangs have gone on to ransack buildings, burning and looting homes belonging to targeted foreigners and the violence threatened to escalate on Friday last week when a group of residents staged a rally dubbed the anti-immigrants march which, predictably, ended up degenerating into an orgy of looting and violence.
Police had to fire stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse vigilantes, not before property worth thousands of rand was destroyed.
And as tension continues to grip the country, with more attacks in Johannesburg as of Monday, former President Mbeki used his inauguration speech as the new Chancellor of the University of South Africa (UNISA) on Monday to condemn xenophobia.
Known for his staunch pan-African views and scholarship, Mbeki painted xenophobia as ahistorical and a result of deep-seated socio-economic problems, which violence could not solve.
He said: “I must express my grave concern at events which took place in this city last week in the context of what was reported as an anti-immigrant march.
“As South Africans, we should never forget the enormous sacrifices that were made by our sister peoples throughout the continent to help us achieve our liberation and cannot now behave in a manner which treats these other fellow Africans who are now resident in our country as enemies or unwelcome guests. Neither should we commit the offence of viewing or characterising the African migrants in our country as criminals.”
He said criminal activities in communities should be handled by the police which, he said, itself has an absolute obligation to follow up on these community reports, to avoid the people taking the law into their hands.
“Those who organise and participate in these attacks, which must stop, should know that there is absolutely nothing revolutionary, progressive, patriotic, acceptable or of service to the people in what are in fact criminal activities,” Mbeki said.
And he pointed out that violence was not going to help the cause of poverty among South Africans.”All of us know that our country faces many socio-economic challenges such as poverty and unemployment. Not even one of these problems can or will be solved by attacking fellow Africans who have joined us as migrants,” he argued.
Mbeki is the author of the renowned, “I am African” treatise and has been leading the charge for an African renaissance while at the same time being involved in many diplomatic endeavours to seek peace on the continent.
His sentiments follow those of leading political and social leaders.
Last week, President Jacob Zuma appealed for calm but refused to view the violence as xenophobia.
“Let us help to cool down the situation; make people understand, talk to the police and talk to the foreigners. That is what they should do rather than making statements that actually exacerbate the feelings of the people,” he said, arguing that communities were unhappy with crime.
“I think we love using phrases in South Africa that at the same time cause unnecessary perceptions about us.
I think we are not [xenophobic], it’s not the first time we’re with the foreigners here.”
Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba also condemned violence, urging calm.
Third force, Trump of South Africa
The latest bout of violence has been blamed in small part on the opposition Democratic Alliance whose mayor of Johannesburg Herman Mashaba recently described foreigners as criminals that should be flushed from his city.
As people pointed out at this, Mashaba refused to be used as a scapegoat but in an interview with a television station on Monday he said he would not apologise.
Ngqabutho Nicholas Mabhena, chairman of the Zimbabwe Community in South Africa, has suggested that the opposition DA is behind the attacks while the ruling ANC has tried by all means to halt the violence.
“In our view, the xenophobia attacks were sparked by the unfortunate utterances by the mayor of Johannesburg, Mr Herman Mashaba, who seeks to criminalise every undocumented foreign national.
“Secondly, we believe there is a third force involvement. If you study carefully the coordination of service delivery protests, the #FeesMustFall movement and the recent xenophobia attacks, it’s clear that some opposition parties are involved in playing to the emotions of the unemployed South Africans.
“Unemployment here stands at 26.6 percent,” he told The Southern Times this week.
Mabhena said blaming foreigners on economic woes was Mashaba’s way of trying to portray himself as “the Donald Trump of Africa”.
“The other element might be the drug dealers. The South African drug dealers might be facing competition from foreign drug dealers.
In trying to reclaim their space, they will raise the dust where ordinary South Africans might view migrants as a problem and begin to drive them out.
Driving out migrants will involve driving out foreign drug dealers and thereby creating space for the local drug dealers,” he reasoned.
A political analyst, Jupiter Punungwe agrees.
He said: “Among the major political parties, the DA is the only one that did not condemn the recent xenophobia. In fact, their mayor Mashaba recently labelled all foreigners living in his city criminals.
“Apparently, the other mayor (Solly) Msimanga went in the wee hours of the morning to urge on the crowd that was very violent from west of Pretoria.
“This begs the question, could it be a DA strategy to stoke xenophobic feelings and blame the resulting chaos on the failure of ANC policies? Is the DA aiming to win votes on the strength of xenophobic feelings among the population?”