Crowds walk out of speech as Buthelezi pleads for end to xenophobia
Johannesburg - Hostel dwellers shunned Inkatha Freedom Party founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi's anti-violence address in Johannesburg on Sunday, walking out to march and chant in the street instead.
Buthelezi was bestowed as the party's emeritus president after new IFP leader Velenkosi Hlabisa took over last month. He said he was in Johannesburg to mediate and call for peace after xenophobic violence and looting of shops in Gauteng over the past two weeks. Hostel dwellers and indunas across Johannesburg descended on Jeppestown in the CBD to hear Buthelezi speak.
He told the crowd he was not addressing them as a political party member, but as an elder. As Buthelezi spoke on the need to live peacefully with fellow Africans and urged people not to take the law into their own hands, a large crowd brandishing knobkerries and sticks walked out of Jules Park, chanting and complaining that he wasn't addressing problems on the ground.
They took to Jules Street, marching before returning back to the public address. A visibly irritated Buthelezi scolded them for their behaviour. The unsettled crowd shouted that no one wants to listen to what they have to say, adding that foreign nationals should leave South Africa.
"You are disrespecting an elder. What you are doing is wrong. Seems it's better to speak when everyone has left... this is not right. These disrespectful people should just leave... just leave," Buthelezi said, with the chanting crowd oblivious to his plea.
Police arrested over 400 people as xenophobic violence gripped Gauteng in the past two weeks. The violence claimed eleven lives. In Katlehong in Ekurhuleni, violence erupted again on Thursday, with police arresting an additional 97 people.
Police Minister Bheki Cele was on Sunday scheduled to hold an imbizo in Jeppestown, but postponed the visit. Cele held a public meeting in Jeppestown on Tuesday and promised the hostel dwellers that he would return on Sunday. The minister said the meeting was postponed because indunas had to attend the annual reed dance in KwaZulu-Natal.
In his speech prepared for delivery at the event, Buthelezi said there "is a terrible quarrel in our nation with foreign nationals who are living amongst us". Lives had been lost and property damaged. There had been looting and burning and violence. While all this was happening, the world was watching, and South Africa was being judged.
"I must speak very bluntly to my fellow South Africans, not to take sides, but to quell the tensions with the voice of truth. What we have seen in the past few days is unacceptable. The attacks on foreign nationals and their businesses are purely xenophobic. It is a violation of human rights and a violation of our Constitution. Our Constitution enshrines the right to freedom from all forms of violence. That right applies to everyone in South Africa, whether citizens or not," he said.
"I understand the tensions, the complaints and the anger. I understand that there is validity to the complaints, on both sides. I also understand that wrongs have been committed by both sides. This has not come out of nowhere.
"But there is a saying in Zulu that you cannot slaughter all the sheep because one sheep has transgressed. In a situation of conflict, it is dangerous to tar everyone with the same brush. Even where there are valid complaints against an individual, we cannot take the law into our own hands. Looting and destruction of property is a crime, full stop. Assault is always wrong," Buthelezi said.
This violence had diplomatic and economic ramifications. South Africa was not an island. There would be "sanctions against us for what we are doing". Already South African-owned companies in Nigeria had been targeted for looting and vandalism.
"We need to stop this thing in its tracks before serious action is taken against us. Do we really want to escalate into international conflict? I feel ashamed. As Africans we are making ourselves a laughing stock in the rest of the world. Because the world knows what we seem so quick to forget: Africans are brothers and sisters," he said.
African News Agency/ANA
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