Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Millions of words have been written about the dastardly wave of xenophobia which has swept across our nation in recent weeks. Much will be written about the multiple causes of this seemingly spontaneous combustion of rage which has whipped through our townships like a dervish whirlwind.
In the bleak early hours of the morning, many of us – I am sure you have dear reader - will have been jolted awake trying to make sense of – to find an overarching narrative: a pattern or trend – of these horrific and random acts of violence. The ship of state is keeling and the compass is spinning wildly. The old certitudes are being discarded. We do not know exactly what to do.
It is almost like that the pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle have been scattered all around and decision makers must somehow, in vain, find them and painstakingly put it all back together again. President Thabo Mbeki’s masterful evocation of Langston Hughes “what happens to a dream deferred? It explodes”, in 1996 has taken on an eerily prescient sheen now. Our Constitution which confidently declares that South Africa belongs to all who live here seems bust. Our hard-earned social compact feels like it is unravelling before our eyes.
Mr Zuma’s and the ruling party’s woes aside, these xenophobic attacks present the most serious challenge to our society since 1994. The philosopher Bertrand Russell sums up our collective moral malaise best: “We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side: one which we preach but do not practise, and another which we practise but seldom preach”.
Can any of us now stand upright and declare boldly “I am an African!”?
The answer is an unequivocal yes. In the midst of the depravity we have seen ordinary South Africans at their extraordinary best. As thousands of immigrants have been displaced, tens of thousands of South Africans have been moved to condemn the violence and give: food, blankets, tents and shelter. The truth which we the people must hold fast to is that people are made for goodness, not evil.
This is why I say that the divisions, the stereotypes, the scape-goating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face: poverty, injustice and inequality. We cannot as a nation afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. To my fellow South Africans I simply say this is not the time to go wobbly. For goodness sake, we are a civilised nation.
When I went out last weekend to meet the victims of the xenophobic attacks and address members of my party I said, as South Africans, we must never fear difference and diversity. For they are the qualities which make us interesting as human beings. By virtue of our common endeavours, our relationships, practise of faith, tastes, to the clothes we wear, we break through the barriers of cultural and linguistic differences each day of our lives. Using myself as an example, I said that I worship in a church, I am partial to Indian food, I am passionate about my Zulu heritage and, most often, I wear Western style suits to work. All our social identities are constantly in flux and being recreated daily.
I could regurgitate the endless policy prescriptions that have been suggested to mend our broken society. All of them probably have value and must, in time, be enacted. But we all know that the most immediate problem is food security. As Franklin D Roosevelt’s trusted adviser Harry Hopkins observed in the midst of the American Depression, people don’t eat in the long run; they eat every day – or starve in the long run.
I urge the government to put everything else on hold and to make sure that no displaced person is left unfed. NGO’s like the TAC and religious organisations are doing a marvellous job, but the muscle of the state is needed. The only way forward is for government to feed the hungry and for a time to employ millions (maybe in great public work programmes) who have nowhere else to turn.
Is this a nod, you might ask, to the social market? Yes. It is. We must reform the free market and balance it with the welfare state. The question is not can we afford the Basic Income Grant, but can we not afford to provide a Basic Income Grant?
There is a season for everything. This is the time for unity and pulling together. A week ago Monday, Reverend Musa Zondi, our Secretary General, led an IFP delegation to meet with an ANC delegation at Luthuli House. We agreed to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight the evil of xenophobia together. I would like to commend the Secretary General of the ANC for his condemnation of those who seek to paint the perpetrators of these attacks as political party provocateurs.
There is no party in South Africa, be it the ANC, IFP, DA, or any of the smaller parties, which does not abhor xenophobia in all its forms. This is the time for all politicians to transcend the political divide to work together to root out all expressions of xenophobia from our midst. This leads me directly to the question: do words have power? I believe they do.
I recall, as I have down before in my online letter, of how on January 29 1991, Madiba and I agreed to address joint ANC/IFP rallies to instruct our supporters to end the bloody reprisals and vendettas between our two organisations. He was prevented from doing so by leaders of the ANC, led by the late Harry Gwala, in KwaZulu Natal. I believe to this day that had we done so the violence could have been stopped much earlier.
In October 1999, the then President of the ANC, President Thabo Mbeki and I, as President of the IFP, went to Thokoza, as the guests of ANC and IFP members in Thokoza. We attended the unveiling of a monument to the Thokoza victims of the low intensity civil war. That monument was a joint venture by both ANC and IFP members. After the unveiling, President Mbeki and I addressed a joint ANC/IFP rally.
We agreed that this would be the first of such joint rallies. But it was not to be. One cannot say how the process of reconciliation would have progressed between the two organisations by now if this had happened.
The finger pointing we see, as exemplified by the crude accusation by the inept MEC for Safety and Security Mr Bheki Cele last week, indicates that reconciliation has not taken root. The same was done by some at Thokoza. In Alexandra, journalists from the Sunday Times told me that there was police intelligence that the IFP was responsible for these eruptions of violence.
I asked him to give me the intelligence report which he, of course, could not do. I then asked the most senior police officer present at Alexandra police station, who stated that there was no such intelligence information and he described the allegation as a lie.
Then I saw a report in one of the newspapers on the 27th of May repeating this false accusation about the involvement of the IFP in the violence. I happened to meet the Minister of Intelligence on the 27th of May and he condemned any idea of finger pointing on this issue.
I dare say that if the rallies had taken place as was suggested in 1991 and 1999, this atmosphere which is conducive to this unconstructive finger pointing would not exist.
Our Chief Whip in Parliament Mr Koos van der Merwe reported to me that he was phoned by the BBC in London who accused the IFP of being at the root of these insane attacks against our brothers and sisters.
The person who interviewed him told him that it was Zulu speaking people who were behind these attacks and therefore they were IFP members. The Chief Whip pointed out to him that there were hundreds of thousands of Zulu speaking people who were members of the ANC.
Reverend Zondi also told me that the BBC had also phoned him and that the same accusation was repeated. He told me that he asked the BBC: “What language does Mr Zuma speak?” This unhealed wound, I fear, between the ANC and the IFP will continue to compound each problem that we are confronted with.
I therefore end with a plea to my fellow leaders across the political spectrum: let us go out and stand together in communities across the nation to unequivocally condemn xenophobia. And maybe – and we politicians find this so hard – just listen to what the people have to say.
If we can do that, these dark days could be worth all they cost. God bless you dear reader. Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP