“I come here today not as a politician, but as an elder. There is a terrible quarrel in our nation with foreign nationals who are living amongst us. Lives have been lost and property damaged. There has been looting and burning and violence. While all this is happening, the world is watching, and we are 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.
We cannot allow this to move in cycles. It is not the first spate of attacks; but it must be the last
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.
Don’t think these things have no consequences. This violence has diplomatic and economic ramifications. We have hundreds of thousands of South Africans living in countries throughout Africa. We have businesses and companies operating across this continent. We have vital trade relations within the African Union and within SADC, the Southern African Development Community. South Africa is not an island.
There will be sanctions against us for what we are doing. It started with the Zambian Football Association cancelling a soccer match against Bafana Bafana. Then Nigeria announced a boycott of the World Economic Forum on Africa being held in Cape Town. But as I feared they would, sanctions quickly turned to retaliation.
Already South African-owned companies in Nigeria have been targeted for looting and vandalism. MTN has had to close all its stores to protect staff, while the police stand guard at Shoprite stores. On Thursday our diplomatic missions in Abuja and Lagos were forced to close after threats were received. President Buhari has announced a visit to South Africa to speak to President Ramaphosa
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.
In every family there are quarrels and squabbles. But the way we are behaving is shooting ourselves in the foot. We are making the name of South Africa a swear word on the continent.
This is not the first time we have had a spike of xenophobic attacks is our country. In 2008 and in 2015 lives were lost and livelihoods destroyed as communities went on the rampage against foreign nationals. I went then, too, to the communities and townships, and I spoke as I am speaking now.
But now my words are somehow different. The sentiments have not changed, but there is a sense of urgency because I fear what will happen if we fail to extinguish this fire.
The IFP has formally asked the Speaker of the National Assembly to call an urgent debate in parliament, not just to condemn xenophobia, but to hear what the state intends to do to swiftly end the violence.
We cannot allow this to move in cycles. It is not the first spate of attacks; but it must be the last.
We have been facing the rising problem of undocumented migration ever since 1994. I served as the first Minister of Home Affairs in a democratic era. For ten years my department grappled with this, trying to find a way to balance human rights with the good of the country.
I was struck even then by the number of undocumented Africans within our borders, especially from Zimbabwe, and the implications this had for our ability to create social and economic justice for South Africans. But when I pointed out our porous borders and said they need to be guarded, some people actually accused me of xenophobia, saying it was because I didn’t go into exile.
If anyone knows what our African brothers sacrificed for the sake of our struggle, it is I.
Many of the countries whose citizens were coming to South Africa had given sanctuary to our political exiles during the struggle for freedom. Being an Anglican myself, I received a letter from the Anglican Bishop of Mozambique, Bishop Dinis Sengulane, lamenting that I was not helping his people who were flocking to South Africa.
These accusations were painful, and quite misplaced. Because if anyone knows what our African brothers sacrificed for the sake of our struggle, it is I. I went myself to Zambia and Tanzania in 1974, to thank President Kaunda and President Nyerere for giving sanctuary to all our exiles. Earlier this year, I again visited His Excellency Dr Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, and he spoke touchingly about the risks they took on our behalf. Let me quote him directly.
“Prince Buthelezi, we first met in 1974 here in Lusaka when I was a leader of a young independent nation of Zambia and was honoured to be leader of the frontline states which were all newly independent states. We hosted South African political exiles and freedom fighters. (It) was a huge risk to our own freedom as a nation. Financially we could not afford this task, since Ian Smith had closed the borders for us to transport goods through Rhodesia. The security risk was enormous on our people as the apartheid regime in South Africa was becoming more and more vicious. But we had to do that historic duty for the freedom of black people. I am a very proud man that we did this and all God’s children in South Africa… are free today.”
Friends, this is our own history. African countries like Lesotho, Swaziland, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania took huge risks on our behalf. Is this how we repay them?
I am not saying that anyone should be able to live in South Africa if they come here illegally, or if they are illegally running a business. If they are committing crime, they are criminals like any South African would be a criminal for doing the same thing. But we cannot adopt the attitude that Africans have no right to come here, and no right to be here, if they come through legitimate channels.
I know that even this is controversial. I remember visiting Geneva for a meeting called by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As South Africa’s Minister of Home Affairs, I discovered that many people who claim to be refugees are not refugees in the legal sense of the word. Yet due to various and very real problems in their countries, they are forced to try their luck in South Africa.
Through immigration legislation, I sought to protect South Africa, closing the door to undocumented migration while opening it to the skills our country so desperately needs. There is, for instance a shortage of doctors in South Africa, and with our failing health care system we need to welcome professional doctors from Nigeria and other countries.
I still regret the irrational hostility towards my Immigration Act when I brought it to the Cabinet of President Mbeki. We moved in the wrong direction as a country and we never resolved the rising tensions. It’s time to do that now, before it is too late.
We dare not forget or disregard all that was done for us by African leaders like His Excellency President Olusegun Obasanjo. As a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, General Obasanjo revealed to the world the real conditions of our people under apartheid. He supported us in our stand against the regime’s plan to deprive us of our citizenship.
In fact, on the very day that Transkei took so-called independence, President Obasanjo arranged for me and my wife to be in Nigeria so that I could avoid attending Transkei’s independence ceremony. General Obasanjo invited me to Nigeria again this year, where I delivered a lecture in celebration of his 82nd birthday.
This is one of the giants of Africa. What are we doing to his people?
I have been a guest of President Hastings Banda in Malawi. I was received by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie in Ethiopia. In Addis Ababa I was received by the Under-Secretary of the OAU, Dr Peter Onu. In Liberia, President Tolbert bestowed upon me a National Order, The Knight Commander of the Star of Africa. And when the OAU bestowed a posthumous award on my mentor Inkosi Albert Luthuli, I accompanied MaNokhukanya Luthuli to Maseru to receive the award from His Majesty King Moshoeshoe II.
If we turn our despair, our anger and frustration against our brothers, we will start a feud that can only end in tragedy
Our struggle is tied to the struggle of these countries throughout Africa. They fought colonialism just as we did. And they sacrificed to see us liberated. So when I say that we are one family, I am speaking the truth. Just recently, when my wife passed away, His Majesty the King of Lesotho paid a visit to my home to comfort me.
We are brothers in Africa.
Yes, South Africa is struggling economic hardship. Our country is in crisis. The cry of our people has not fallen on deaf ears. But if we turn our despair, our anger and frustration against our brothers, we will start a feud that can only end in tragedy. We are fighting our own family.
Friends, I am a Christian. I believe what the Bible says. It says, quite clearly:
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt…” (Leviticus 19 v 33 and 34)
“Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.” (Deuteronomy 23 v 16)
“Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow (citizen) or a foreigner residing in one of your towns… Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice.” (Deuteronomy 24 v 14 – 17)
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner.” (Deuteronomy 27 v 19)
“Do not oppress… the foreigner… Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7 v 10)
I cannot put it more clearly. This is not my instruction, but God’s. Let us be led by our moral conscience.