Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
When xenophobia flared into brutal killings in Gauteng in 2008, the IFP was vocal in speaking against the violence and the undercurrent of hatred and discrimination. We also lamented the fact that this outburst was predictable and had in fact been predicted, yet nothing had been done to prevent it.
The violence quickly spread to the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal and, before long, our country was caught up in a whirlwind of debate over the rights of foreign nationals in South Africa, the porosity of our borders, the extra burden on our social services and how we could live out the vision of being brothers and sisters of our African soil, when so much stood between us.
What stood between us were the immense needs and challenges faced by our own people, and the immense needs and challenges of those coming to South Africa. If we could not meet the needs of our own citizens, or overcome our own challenges, how could we welcome these foreign nationals with open arms and an open heart?
The fact that xenophobic violence is flaring again, in the very place it flared before, tells us that we have not answered these questions, nor have we done what is needed to prevent a renewed fire of hatred and discrimination from engulfing our country.
The IFP has again spoken against the violence and called for tolerance and peace. But this time we will speak more loudly about the need to address the underlying cause of xenophobia. It is not just the fear that someone will come in from outside and take what we ourselves lack and struggle to hold on to.
There seems to be a need among our people for a scapegoat, for someone on whom to focus all the frustration, despair, anger and fear that has built up over years of having too little. Poverty and unemployment are driving xenophobia. Until we heal that wound in our country, other wounds will keep opening.
When foreign nationals were murdered in the xenophobic attacks of 2008, I visited the families of the deceased and let them know that we stood with them in grief and suffering. I was moved by the depth of pain my own countrymen had caused these widows and orphans.
Many African countries, some of whose people now seek refuge here, gave sanctuary to our political exiles during Apartheid. To my mind, we owe them an apology for what is being done on South African soil.
I often think of the words of Euripides, the last of the great Greek tragedians, who said: “There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land”. The decision to leave one’s own country, whether made by deliberate and reasoned choice, or in fear for one’s life, is never an easy decision. It is not made lightly.
I wish that South Africans could see things through the eyes of foreign nationals who have sought refuge in South Africa, whether it is economic or political refuge. But I also wish that many political leaders could see things through the eyes of struggling South Africans, who face untold hardship every single day. We could all do with a change in perspective and a better understanding of each other’s suffering.
The plight of foreign nationals also reminds me of how easily millions of black South Africans could have lost their citizenship of a democratic and liberated South Africa, and found themselves the foreigners.
The Apartheid regime sought to balkanise our country, giving so-called “independence” to parts of South Africa. In this way, when the international world decried oppression in South Africa, the Government could deny culpability, pointing out that the majority now governed themselves.
In line with this grand scheme, the Apartheid Government offered nominal “independence” to KwaZulu. As Chief Minister, the decision to accept or reject this offer ultimately fell to me.
I knew, however, that if I accepted “independence” for KwaZulu, the people of KwaZulu would find themselves deprived of South African citizenship when political liberation was finally achieved. We would still be standing on the outside, looking in.
I therefore rejected Pretoria’s honey-trap and KwaZulu remained under the governance of an oppressive regime. When liberation was achieved, I was appointed as Minister of Home Affairs, and found myself administering the citizenship applications of millions of people from the so-called independent states who sought to regain their South African citizenship.
I have been vilified and maligned for the decisions I made during our liberation struggle. But I regret none of them. Because all I did, I did in the interests of my people, my country and its future. I looked to the long-term, never doubting that we would overcome Apartheid in the end, and I sought to prepare the best possible outcome for all my people.
There is still a long road to walk towards the vision I had for South Africa in 1994. But I am determined to keep walking it. I will keep working to see poverty, unemployment and hardship overcome in our land, because as we heal this wound, we will create an environment in which xenophobia and violence are rejected for the evil they truly are.
I am committed to peace for South Africa and in South Africa.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP