President Jacob Zuma of South Africa came out with guns blazing on Monday when he told people that had attended the Freedom Day celebrations that the problem of immigrants to his country were not of his country’s making alone and that other African countries should shoulder the blame for the problem.
President Zuma was speaking at the Union Buildings in the political capital of South Africa, Pretoria, where he was addressing people that had been gathered to celebrate the country’s Uhuru day. His speech comes in the wake of several events that have left the continent’s second largest economy with egg in its face due to attacks on foreign nationals, which left at least seven people dead in violence which erupted in Durban, the south eastern port city and spread to Johannesburg, the commercial capital of the country. The government had to quickly intervene by calling in the army to try and quell the attacks. In addition, the South African government also provided buses to ferry foreign nationals to their respective countries while those that chose to remain behind were assisted by the police and the army to reintegrate into their former communities. Many political leaders and celebrities have taken a stand in damning the attacks on foreign nationals leading to a calmer country.
While addressing the attendees of the Freedom Day celebrations, which mark 21 years since the end of apartheid, President Zuma lambasted the other African countries for contributing to the problem of the influx of refugees to the country. “Our brother countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries? It is not useful to criticise South Africa as if we mushroom these foreign nationals and then ill-treat them. Some said if you raise your voice in country X you disappear,” Zuma said to laughter and applause from the listeners. He went on to say that everyone seemed to condemn South Africa for the xenophobic attacks but no one seemed to try to answer the questions of how these refugees ended up in South Africa in the first place, adding that it was a matter that the continent desperately needed to discuss. Jacob Zuma went on to condemn the violence that was perpetrated against the foreign nationals, calling on the locals to desist from these attacks and saying that while the government understood their concerns, these were no excuses to attack foreigners. “None of these justify attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops. We condemn the violence strongly. It is important to emphasise that not all foreign nationals are in the country illegally,” he said.
Turning to what the government would do to redress the situation, the President said that they were in the process of tightening their borders and that they had sent a number of members of the army to work with the Home Affairs officials in order to reduce the porosity of the country’s borders. He added that the army would also be used to patrol the borders and had already been sent to seven provinces to increase the security at the borders. “Government has already announced measures to improve security at the border posts, including deploying the army in seven provinces recently to patrol border posts. We cannot leave our borders open and hope that either angels and ancestors are guarding our borders. They will never,” the President quipped.
“We are very happy because we hear there are some murmurs that this matter must be discussed in the AU. We are happy to be given an opportunity to deal with the matter in South Africa and other countries that lead to this situation,” said Zuma in apparent reference to Nigeria, which had indicated that they would be putting the matter of the xenophobic attacks on the African Union agenda with a view to having the South African government suspended from the African body.