Johannesburg - “The spirit of Ubuntu must not just be a slogan referred to in diplomatic speeches, but it must be felt in real life,” said Ambassador Bene Mpoko, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. He was attending Minister of International Relations Maite Mashabane’s briefing to African diplomats and the media in Pretoria this morning.
“It is with a deep sense of pain, shame, and regret that we humble ourselves and express our heartfelt apologies for these unwarranted developments,” she said, referring to the spate of xenophobic attacks which have engulfed parts of KZN and Gauteng this week.
“Pan Africanism has been the motive force of our liberation struggle, and these attacks are a threat to our historical achievements,” Mashabane stated.
Ambassador Mpoko, speaking on behalf of all African ambassadors resident in South Africa, emphasized that foreign nationals experienced violent xenophobic attacks in 2007, 2008, 2014, and 2015. “It seems that every time it happens, these attacks are getting worse and worse.” A national of the DRC himself, Mpoko claims that DRC nationals have been particularly targeted, four or five having lost their lives.
Citizens of SADC countries with sizeable numbers of their nationals in South Africa have become enraged by the reports of violence against their fellow citizens. Local communities in Zambia have dubbed this “Black Friday,” and are planning a march to the South African High Commission to express their incredulity. They have called on Zambians to boycott South African businesses such as Pick and Pay and Shoprite.
Malawian civil society organisations are furious, planning mass protests, and calling for a boycott of all South African investments, which include Game, Pep, Shoprite, Inter-Cape bus, and SAA. The Malawian Government has facilitated the return of 420 of their nationals back to Malawi by bus.
The hysteria has been fanned by reports that locals in Jeppestown and Cleveland in Gauteng blocked roads with rocks and burning tyres and ordered foreigners to leave the country.
But proving that Ubuntu is not dead, the Director of Gift of the Givers, Imtiaz Sooliman has applauded the outpouring of support from ordinary South Africans for the victims of xenophobic violence. “As a result of the generosity of South Africans, we have been able to distribute R1million in supplies, providing shelter, blankets, food, water and other necessities to the victims,” Sooliman said.
As the largest local humanitarian organization in the country, the resources of Gift of the Givers have been stretched as they care for people in the two refugee centres they have set up in Isipingo and Chatsworth, and the transit refugee camp they are establishing in Mayfair, Johannesburg. Sooliman estimates that there are over 8,500 foreign nationals affected by the xenophobia, which excludes those who have fled and are hiding in private accommodation.
While Government has strongly condemned the xenophobic violence, there have been no resources contributed to the work of groups like Gift of the Givers who are doing the heavy lifting in this tragedy. Minister Mashabane confirmed that DIRCO has not contributed any funds to these efforts from its African Renaissance Fund, “as it has not been asked to do so.”
Ultimately the violence against foreign nationals will have a detrimental effect on South Africa’s image on the continent and its economic diplomacy, at a time when Government has prioritized the African agenda, which lies at the core of its foreign policy. It is now up to the South African missions on the continent to communicate that the perpetrators of such violence are not a true reflection of the vast majority of South Africans.