Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party and
Traditional Prime Minister to the Zulu Monarch and Nation
On Thursday evening, members of my church gathered to attend a service traditionally held before Good Friday and Easter Sunday. During that service, our priest washes the feet of his congregants, in symbolic remembrance of Christ’s act of humility and service as He faced His coming crucifixion.
While I helped my priest perform this service, I could not shake from my mind an image from Isipingo: the image of a terrified mother fleeing with her severely injured infant as South Africans chased her from her home. Her crime? Not being born on South African soil.
I knew that I had to come to Isipingo and speak to you about what has happened here. It is the not the first time it has happened, and this is not the first place it has happened in. More and more, in places throughout South Africa, xenophobia is suddenly igniting in acts of violence, terror and gross injustice.
Something is badly wrong in the heart of our communities, and it needs to be spoken about.
I realise that by saying what I am about to say, I am entering a hornets’ nest, for the issue of xenophobia has become deeply contentious. It is worrying that when anyone in leadership makes a statement against foreign nationals, one hears South Africans cheering and saying, “They are only saying what we are saying ourselves.” The recent comments by His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation have been widely repeated, with some being critical and some applauding him.
It is almost irrelevant that the King’s spokesperson, Judge Ngwenya, has tried to set the record straight and has told us that the King’s actual comments have been distorted. Yet we know that His Majesty our King would never issue an injunction without informing his nation first. We have had no communication nor indication from the King that the Zulu nation should turn against foreign nationals in any way, and certainly not that we should evict refugees. The King spoke only against those who bring drugs into our country; those who engage in crime in South Africa and those who flout our laws to the detriment of our citizens.
It is painful that even statements like this feed into the fire of xenophobia simply because a tinderbox has been created around the presence of foreign nationals. But I want to make it clear that what happened in Isipingo and what happened in Malukazi is just not acceptable. It goes against our Constitution. It goes against our national conscience. It goes against every principle of Ubuntu botho that forms the backbone of what is good in South Africa.
How can South Africa be, in 2015, the most xenophobic country on this continent?
Our neighbours in Africa gave sanctuary to all our political exiles as we struggled for decades to secure democracy. They stood by us, they supported us and they gave us refuge. They didn’t isolate us and ask what we were doing in their countries. They didn’t victimise us and try to chase us out. They didn’t burn down the homes we established through our tears, far from our own beloved land.
Yet now we turn on those who opened their hearts to us, and treat them like animals. How is this possible? How can we forcibly evict fellow Africans when our own Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma sits as Chairperson of the African Union?
I know it is hard to see people competing for scarce resources, when we ourselves have so little. But when they opened their doors to us during apartheid, they were not rich.
I am not saying we must throw open our doors and welcome everyone in, because we ourselves are struggling already. But I am saying it is wrong to be violent towards anyone, regardless of where they come from, regardless of what language they speak. It is wrong to treat anyone like an animal, chasing them away from their home and forcing them to flee in terror.
I want to thank our police men and women who did their duty by protecting the victims of xenophobic attacks here in Isipingo. They did what the law requires and what our Constitution dictates. Everyone has a right to safety and security, to life, to shelter, to food and to human dignity. Everyone is equal in the sight of our Constitution. Thus, just as I said in 2008 when xenophobic attacks flared up in South Africa, I am saying again: the IFP condemns violence against anyone, in any form. It cannot be justified.
I am here today as the President of the IFP, but also as a former Minister of Home Affairs. I know from a decade of experience that many people who describe themselves as asylum seekers cannot be considered refugees under international law. But that does not mean they have no rights on our soil. Leaving the country of one’s birth is never an easy decision. For those who seek sanctuary in South Africa, whether political or economic, life has held tremendous hardship.
I know our people are suffering. I know life is painfully difficult for millions of South Africans. But no one is getting a free ride. Don’t kid yourself that foreign nationals have it easy on our soil, while we are suffering. We need to let go of our bitterness and prejudice, and act with dignity and compassion.
There is pain everywhere, suffering everywhere, hardship everywhere. Why increase that? Why not be part of lightening the load through an act of kindness?
I speak as a Zulu and as a South African. I am the uncle of His Majesty the King and I serve as his traditional Prime Minister. I cannot watch my own nation earn itself a reputation for hatred on this continent. That is not who we are. It denies our heritage of dignity, unity and inclusivity.
As a leader in my country, I want to appeal to those in governance and in positions of influence to carefully consider their policy and their words. It worries me that the Mayor has advised victims of xenophobia not to return to their homes and businesses here. They have been uprooted and driven out. What must they do now to pick up the pieces of their lives?
This statement that they should not return is dangerous in the extreme, for it tells people in this and in other communities that violently driving out foreign nationals is a workable idea, because they leave and don’t come back. I urge those in power to publically state, as a matter of urgency, what the official position is on these xenophobic attacks, so that everyone will know where we stand.
I have spoken out publically many times, and have even been ridiculed in the media for speaking on behalf of human rights, human dignity and justice. I have no doubt that some will judge me harshly for speaking up again. But frankly, I don’t care. Let anyone judge as they will. I must speak up for what is right, and speak out against what is wrong.
I beg my fellow citizens to act with compassion and to redirect their anger over poor service delivery and economic hardship into political mobilisation for change. Change is needed in South Africa. What is not needed is more violence, more hatred and more division. On behalf of my own nation, and my country, I apologise again for what we have done. I pray that South Africans will help rebuild and heal where South Africans have opened a wound.
IFP Media, Parliament