South African High Commissioner to Botswana Mdu Lembede has stopped short of blaming the current wave of xenophobic attacks taking place in his country on corrupt African leaders.
Giving his SA Freedom Day speech at Gaborone Sun on Thursday Lembede urged Africans to stand up to their leaders. “Let us stand up to the leaders in our beautiful continent and urge them to wake up and smell the coffee and while at it, to fix the governance of their own countries so that our people can lead meaningful lives and be at peace with themselves,” the High Commissioner said.
He said SA President Jacob Zuma had tasked his ministers to address the main concerns raised by South African citizens with regards to migration while taking care of the well being of migrants especially those in the country legally.
While the event was meant to celebrate SA’s 21st anniversary since independence Lembede said it would be amiss not to touch on the problems his country is facing “which have been widely labelled as xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals.” He said as South Africans they were ashamed of what some of their compatriots had done.
“These attacks are a serious threat to our historical achievements as a nation and go against the democratic values as enshrined in our constitution.” He said his government and its citizens view the attacks as criminal offence that can never be justified or condoned.
The government, Lembede said, has spared no effort to respond to the crisis the country is facing. “A number of steps have been taken by the government to respond to and deal decisively with this crisis and we have communicated these steps to our partners in the region and beyond, including the government of Botswana.
Lembede’s statements were repeated by President Jacob Zuma when he delivered his Freedom Day address on Monday. Zuma reportedly lashed out at governments that had criticised South Africa while it housed their citizens.
“As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries and are in South Africa?” said Zuma on Monday.
Zuma also called for a frank conversation on illegal immigrants within the Southern African Development Community as well as the African Union.┬á
“The latest outbreak of violence necessitates more comprehensive action from all of us to ensure that there is no recurrence. We have to address the underlying causes of the violence and tensions, which is the legacy of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our country and our continent and the competition for limited resources,” Zuma said.┬á
By the time of going to press the official death toll from the xenophobic attacks stood at seven with Mozambiquean national, Emmanuel Sithole, being the latest casualty. Sithole’s gruesome murder was entirely captured on camera by Sunday Times photographer, James Oatway. Responding to the international outbreak on the murder of sithole, who was later identified as Manuel Jossias, Zuma said: “He used a false name to avoid detection by authorities as he was an illegal immigrant,” he said.┬á
This was SA’s second wave of xenophobic attacks in seven years following the series of riots that led to the deaths of at least 62 people in May, 2008. Official statistics suggest there are about two million foreign nationals living in South Africa, accounting for 4 percent of the total population. Unofficial estimates put the number at five million.