Johannesburg - South African media should refrain from using the word “xenophobia” because it implied South Africans harboured extreme hatred for foreign nationals, and using the word could spark attacks, the chairperson of the parliamentary committee set up to probe violence against foreigners said on Friday.
Speaking during a visit by the ad hoc committee to the Jeppe police station in Johannesburg and during a committee meeting with Izinduna (tribal headman), committee co-chairperson Ruth Bhengu said: “As journalists, you must refrain from using xenophobia because it means having extreme hatred which we don’t have as South Africans.
“We must move away from this xenophobic word because it brings us to the wars and makes it seem like South Africans hate foreigners when we have lived with whites and Indians who we don’t know where they come from. We are proudly South African and we accommodated those who came from all over, therefore it is not correct to judge and say South Africans are xenophobic and prevents us from moving forward. Media must report that it’s just attacks, not xenophobic attacks, which shifts the focus from the real issues.”
The Izindunas, from various hostels around Johannesburg, felt the main issue was that factories were hiring foreign nationals because they were willing to work for “peanuts, while local residents were unemployed and hungry. They said they did not understand how foreigners were able to open tuck shops and own companies, but as South Africans it was hard for them.
“Firms don’t hire people from here. Is this committee here to help us or because the foreigners were attacked when South African people who vote for them are hungry?” Miya, one of the Izindunas from Jeppe asked.
“I’m not happy I don’t have a cent as we speak. We tried with the police to sort things out in this area. Locals here have nothing. How do foreigners have everything and we have nothing. Hopefully now that you (government) are here you will help. These buildings, who is allowed to get in there when we have nothing?”
He said in Jeppe no one had been attacked during the most recent outbreak of violence earlier this year.
Most of the Izindunas felt that the government had not helped them as South Africans.
“We have problems but we don’t hear parliament helping. Only crazy people would want war and we don’t. Police are the only ones who help, not government. What have we done because government doesn’t help? We don’t like that hostel people are made to be the criminals and people in these buildings and in townships are the criminals. If we have done wrong forgive us, we want to work together.”
A Nduna from Jabulani hostel said that if it were up to him, companies would take on local people and he hoped the visit from parliamentarians would help with this.
“Ndunas and police die, but government doesn’t come solve things, but now foreign nationals are harmed and they come.”
The committee said foreign nationals had told them on their visit on Thursday that they had experienced attacks and persecution in their own countries and had come to South Africa to be safe.
“We may have not achieved all the issues the country has, but there are long-term plans to address unemployment, inequality and poverty,” said Tekoetsile Motlashuping, the other co-chair of the committee,
“We can’t turn a blind eye when there is violence against other nationals. Foreigners come in all forms, some for economic reasons, educational and add value to the economy. We need to solve the problem so that it doesn’t happen again. If the world doesn’t invest in South Africa, we will all go hungry.”
Miya was adamant, saying: “You all want the truth? There’s no xenophobia! When people are taking our jobs and space, don’t act like you don’t know what the true problem is. Where will our children sell and make a living. What will stop the war is local people getting jobs.”
The Izindunas said they did not hate anyone, but wanted the country to be controlled
“Let’s not avoid the truth. In firms, foreigners are managers and our people are nothing,” Miya told MPs.
“Leave xenophobia. I want us to live the right way. We stopped a white man and a Nigerian man from opening a brothel where our children would be selling their bodies. We want our children to have respect. Stop using ndunas as free labour. People say we are selling them out because foreigner are protected.”
Motlashuping said they were not there to defend foreign nationals. But, he said it was clear that the attacks stemmed from economic confrontation, with people fighting for tuck shops and small businesses and what was perceived as uneven competition between foreigners and locals.
Bhengu said the committee would be talking to the Chamber of Commerce and local authorities regarding the acquisition of buildings for business purposes.
“South Africans complain that the infrastructure that they operate their shops in isn’t okay,” she said. “We are going to engage the private sector as well as the local municipalities.”
The committee was formed in the wake of attacks that took place in April where several foreign nationals were killed and shops belonging to foreigners looted in Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal.
Bhengu added the committee would be looking to report back on its work in September if everything went according to schedule.