By Peroshni Govender
At least seven people have been killed in the latest wave of anti-immigrant violence to hit South Africa, which began almost three weeks ago in Durban, a coastal city in the Zulu heartland.
TV stations across the country have broadcast scenes of angry mobs armed with machetes looting immigrant-owned shops, in the worst xenophobic violence since at least 67 people were killed in 2008.
Police said on Monday its officers had arrested three people linked to the killing on Saturday of Mozambican man Emmanuel Sithole. Disturbing pictures of men beating and stabbing Sithole in broad daylight were published in the Sunday Times, fuelling calls for the police to do more to protect immigrants.
"We need to make sure no more foreigners are attacked. We must stop these vile acts," Zwelithini told thousands of supporters at a stadium in Durban, during a speech the popular leader hoped would restore calm among his followers.
Zulus are the largest ethnic group in South Africa with around 9 million first-language Zulu speakers out of a population of around 50 million.
Some hostile sections of the crowd were singing songs calling for immigrants to leave and booed an earlier speaker who said foreigners had a right to live in South Africa.
"The government can't allow these people to come here and take all the jobs," unemployed Manga Zulu, 38, told Reuters from inside the stadium.
Zwelithini has been accused of lighting the touch paper on the latest wave of anti-immigrant unrest during a speech he made on March 20 in Pongola in northern Kwa-Zulu Natal.
"Let us pop our head lice. We must remove ticks and place them outside in the sun. We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and be sent back," Zwelithini told a cheering crowd.
Many Africans said on social media that describing immigrants as "lice" echoed calls during the 1994 Rwandan genocide for Tutsis to be exterminated like "cockroaches".
But Zwelithini's comments resonated with many impoverished South Africans who say foreigners have taken advantage of lax immigration rules to flood the country and "steal" jobs.
Zwelithini, a key ally of President Jacob Zuma, who has condemned the attacks but not criticised Zwelithini, told supporters in Durban his comments were taken out of context.
"The country has only been shown a portion of my speech, which has been selective," he said. "If it were true that I said 'foreigners must go' this country would be up in flames."
According to census data, South Africa has an estimated 1.7 million foreigners living within its borders, though many claim the figure to be much higher.
African governments, including Zimbabwe and Malawi, repatriated hundreds of their citizens from South Africa last week due to fears of further xenophobic attacks.
There are also fears of reprisals against South Africans working in other countries. Irish mining firm Kenmare Resources and Sasol both pulled out South African workers from Mozambique in recent days.
This is what you said before the attacks happened.
SOUTH AFRICA – Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has called for the deportation of foreign nationals living in the country, saying it was unacceptable locals were being made to compete with people from other countries for the few economic opportunities available.
Addressing Pongolo community members during a moral regeneration event on Friday, Zwelithini accused government of failing to protect locals from the “influx of foreign nationals”.
“Most government leaders do not want to speak out on this matter because they are scared of losing votes. “As the king of the Zulu nation, I cannot tolerate a situation where we are being led by leaders with no views whatsoever.
“We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries,” Zwelithini said.
“The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.
“I know you were in their countries during the struggle for liberation. But the fact of the matter is you did not set up businesses in their countries,” he said.
Zwelithini, who spoke from a prepared speech, which is in The Citizen‘s possession, made the remarks in the presence of Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and KZN community MEC Willies Mchunu.
The king’s remarks are made against the backdrop of rising tensions between foreign nationals and locals in the wake of recent xenophobic attacks in the country.
The violence began in Soweto, Gauteng, in January and later spread to KwaZulu-Natal, where it has claimed three lives so far.
The DA described Zwethini’s comments as “highly irresponsible”. “Particularly given the recent spate of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, he should do the right thing – retract and apologise,” DA national spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said it was looking into the matter.
“His utterances, if proven true, would border on xenophobic,” SAHRC spokesperson Isaac Mangena said. The king’s spokesperson Judge Jerome Ngwenya declined to comment. The Citizen
For God and My Country
Born and Raised in Uganda (Bududa District)
Martha Leah Zesaguli (Nangalama)
BELIEVE! I wept because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet." Ancient Persian saying I am a Social Justice and Human Rights Activist. Find me on Face Book. All my opinions are mine and do not reflect on any employer or organisation.