Johannesburg - South Africa will brief continental and international organisations on the spate of violence against foreign nationals, President Jacob Zuma said at Monday’s official Freedom Day commemoration of 21 years of democracy.
Zuma announced he would submit a formal report to the Southern African Development Community, the AU and the UN on the violence - before going off-script amid queries from the audience on what the report would say.
Zuma tread a careful balance between not being seen to criticise other African governments while urging continental and regional discussions on, among others, why refugees and asylum-seekers did not shelter in countries neighbouring their own as per convention, but continued to travel to South Africa.
“I don’t think we need to appear as being critical of other governments. We can’t,” he said. “They (refugees) know South Africa is a safer country… When they are here, they live like Africans among their brothers and sisters. They don’t live in camps. My view is that these matters needs to be discussed by the African Union. As much as we have a problem, alleged to be xenophobic, our brother countries contribute to this.”
Recalling discussions last week between the government and organisations representing foreign nationals, Zuma said the representatives cautioned on a new influx of refugees and asylum-seekers as the the state of affairs in their countries deteriorated further.
“Some of them had very serious allegations against their own countries to explain why they are in South Africa,” Zuma said, emphasising the need for discussions within SADC and the AU.
“Everybody then criticises South Africa as if we are manufacturing a problem. But what prompted these people to be here? All of us need to treat our citizens with care.”
Monday’s Freedom Day commemoration took place in the wake of xenophobic violence that spread from Durban to Joburg this month, leaving at least seven dead, including three South Africans, and thousands displaced in temporary camps.
Last week, soldiers were deployed in hotspots, and in seven provinces with points of entry for foreigners, amid a series of steps the government undertook, including various ministerial meetings with communities.
On Monday, Zuma again condemned the xenophobic attacks: “They have no place in a democracy where people are free to express their unhappiness about any issue.”
And then he launched into a commentary on South Africa as an angry nation with a propensity to use violence due to its unresolved legacy of dehumanisation and culture of violence embedded by apartheid.
Zuma used Parliament as an example, in a veiled reference to the EFF, which has shaken up parliamentary activities.
“Look at the institution that is said to be the apex of democracy - Parliament. Look at the politicians who you voted for, how angry they are. How defiant they are in Parliament,” Zuma said.
“That is a glaring example of the nature of apartheid culture of violence that is left with us. It’s not just with ordinary people, it’s even in Parliament.
“We need to be cured. We’re sick.”
Across the country, at the EFF Freedom Day event in Inanda near Durban, party leader Julius Malema took a different tack. He said the EFF would continue “speaking truth” even in Parliament, where MPs could no longer just sleep, as the party was not afraid of either Zuma or the police in its drive for economic transformation.
The EFF rally went ahead following the eThekwini council’s reversal of its decision to withdraw permission on Friday, after the required meetings for safety and the like were held, and deposits paid.
While DA national spokeswoman Phumzile van Damme paid tribute to Nelson Mandela at the party’s Freedom Day event in Mangaung, Eastern Cape DA leader Athol Trollip, who is contesting the party chairmanship, led a “freedom tour” through Nelson Mandela Bay, calling on residents to vote for change in next year’s local government elections.
DA leader Helen Zille issued an SA Today online newsletter to call for “real” transformation, highlighting her party’s drive to hold maintenance defaulters accountable.
While apartheid carried “a great deal of the blame for the erosion of the family structure in black communities”, she said, responsible parenthood should be “front and centre of our debate on how to redress the legacy of apartheid and remove the barriers to real transformation”.
Meanwhile, Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder called for the recognition of everyone’s contribution to a democratic South Africa, while
Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota urged the government to tackle unemployment.