It is understandable for the citizens of South Africa to complain about the influx of foreigners in their country. In Europe a similar phenomenon is unfolding with immigration being the most discussed topic in the news as hundreds of migrants drown in the Mediterranean Sea virtually every month. Looking at the numbers arriving, one must feel sympathy with those legitimate concerns, not least that such uncontrolled influx is unsustainable in the long run. However, even without having to be selective with history, what is disconcerting is the route some South Africans have chosen to take, to address the problems they associate with immigration.
Goodwill Zwelithini. There have been wide debates that the xenophobic attacks were inflamed by the Zulu King’s speech. Here is part of the now infamous speech,
We talk of people [South Africans] who do not want to listen, who do not want to work, who are thieves, child rapists and house breakers…. When foreigners look at them, they will say let us exploit the nation of idiots. As I speak you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops, they dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere. I know it is hard for other politicians to challenge this because they are after their votes. Please forgive me but this is my responsibility, I must talk, I cannot wait for five years to say this. As King of the Zulu Nation… I will not keep quiet when our country is led by people who have no opinion. It is time to say something. I ask our government to help us to fix our own problems, help us find our own solutions. We ask foreign nationals to pack their belongings and go back to their countries (loud cheers).”
What Zwelithini either does not understand, or secretly understands and wanted to take advantage of, is that his words carry weight. Thus it was inevitable that his utterances would give people the courage to attack foreigners. These negative sentiments about foreigners in South Africa have been suppressed since the last xenophobic attacks in 2008, and it is now evident that some South Africans are convinced that foreigners have to go back to their countries. Zwelithini’s words of labelling ‘South Africans as a nation of idiots’ must have struck chord with the disgruntled poor citizen who has seen countless numbers of foreigners making a living in South Africa. And when Zwelithini stated that foreign nationals need to pack their belongings and go back to their countries, it must have added some credence to the immigration debate that has been a problem in South Africa. He also alluded to the fact that their politicians who are lax are incapable of solving the immigration debacle in South Africa, hence the people took it upon themselves to deal with immigrants.
Besides the callous and inexcusable violence his words have clearly spurred, the brazen thuggery of some of the King’s supporters was perfectly observed yesterday at a stadium in Durban, where Zwelithini had been scheduled to speak to his people, to condemn the attacks and urge peace. A few pictures and tweets tell a story in which the irony certainly wasn’t lost:-
Nontobeko Sibisi @Nontobek0Sibisi ·
People have started arriving #Imbizo here they singing “abahambe abahambayo siyosala siyincenga”
RT @Nontobek0Sibisi: #Imbizo – Shouting “abahambe, badayisa ama’drugs,” translated they must go, they sell drugs
Khatija Nxedlana @its_KhaTija
#Imbizo Crowds are singing “Abahambe abahambayo, sosala sisebenza” basically meaning those who want to go must go
#Imbizo Izinduna & Amabutho are walking around the stadium chanting & dancing
Jeff Wicks @wicks_jeff
Small sections of the crowd erupt in song with traditional weapons held aloft #Imbizo #isilo @News24
Sebenzile Nkambule @SebeNkambule
People at the Imbizo in KZN are singing ‘let them go, we will work’. Wonder what the King will say to make it better… #XenophobiaMustFall
Words are indeed a powerful tool which politicians use to garner support from the electorate. It only takes a charismatic orator to sway the opinions of many as we have seen too many times throughout history. Didn’t some psycho named Adolf manage to instill the fear of Jewish people in tens of millions of Germans in the 1930’s and 40’s? And in less than 5 years, the brown shirts were on the streets of Germany harassing the Jews for being ‘leeches’; blaming every problem Germany faced as a consequence of the Great Depression of 1929. By 1943, Germany was systematically murdering Jews in their tens of thousands in concentration camps and gas chambers in all the conquered lands of Eastern Europe. Yet all this madness only began with the words and sick philosophy of a failed painter in the beer halls of Munich.
If a failed painter in Germany managed to shift opinions of millions of people regarding the Jews at a time when we didn’t have many of the communication conveniences we now have, then how easy would it be for a King in South Africa to sway people’s perceptions of foreigners? In the age of the internet…? And considering the gross inequality in South African society?
In the world of twitter and Facebook, the dissemination of information is instant and it has become relatively an easy task to mobilise groups of people for a cause. Riots can be started from a computer keyboard at the press of a few buttons. It is therefore very dangerous and irresponsible for Zwelithini as a king of the Zulu’s to speak in a manner that is likely to inflame emotions. In an already extremely volatile situation, loosely held together by faint and quickly fading memories of disapproval of the 2008 violence, it was only going to take a few words from a madman with a hint of authority, anyone with a hint of authority!! to yet again incite violence against immigrants, and for the pangas to come out.
For the King to blame South Africa’s problems on foreigners, most of whom work in the informal sectors of the economy is not only shallow but despicable on all levels. As Julius Malema correctly pointed out yesterday, there are no jobs to steal. Most of the migrants working in South Africa create work for themselves. Instead of stigmatizing them, shouldn’t South Africa celebrate their contribution, and figure out a way of bringing them into the formal sector? Further, South Africans forget too quickly. Barely 20 years ago, African governments across the continent were still doing everything in their powers to fight Apartheid in South Africa and ensure Nelson Mandela was freed. They supported anti-apartheid militant guerilla factions, organised funding for the ANC (with some cutting their own budgets to meet their obligations), and put pressure on the international community to isolate the Verwoerd Institution. Zwelithini wouldn’t be able to enjoy the lush lifestyle he is known to enjoy today, complete with mansions, 6 wives and 28 children, if it wasn’t for the sacrifices paid by hundreds of thousands across Africa.
Here is a king who gets paid nearly R148000 a day, and yet he is still asking for more money from the government to fund his lavish lifestyle. According to documents seen by the Sunday Times , a breakdown of the King’s expenditure last year looked like this:-
— R10.3-million allocated for the King’s palaces;
— R2.2-million in stipends for his six wives. Each wife receives a tax- free R31000 stipend each month, R6500 for groceries, a R4550 medical aid allowance and a R2400 cellphone allowance;
— R2.5-million for travelling expenses, which translates to each wife receiving about R36000 a month; and
R915248 for education. The amount is for the tuition and boarding for five of the king’s children, who attend top private schools, and a grandson at Kearsney College in Botha’s Hill, KwaZulu-Natal. Zwelithini has 27 children.
— For the king’s wedding to Mafu, the trust stumped up R950000 for catering, R20000 for several rooms at the Ulundi Holiday Inn, R200000 for a 5000-seat marquee, R160000 for a sound system and R250000 for decor and flowers.”
Bloody hell…what are his priorities? If this guy had genuine love for his predominantly poor followers, would it not be wise of him to cut his expenses so that the government of South Africa is able to save money? From his statements, I doubt Zwelithini would want that and so it seems a cheaper (and lazy) alternative is to scapegoat the foreign house worker who receives meagre wages.
It’s Zwelithini’s disregard for the ordinary South Africans that is costing the taxpayers a fortune, and not Zimbabwean, Malawians or Nigerian migrants.
Zwelithini is part of the problems that South Africa has and it serves him better to denigrate foreigners, so that poor South Africans are deflected from the real issues (corruption, inequality, mismanagement) that are facing the country. If the president of South Africa can use 246 million South African Rands of taxpayers funds to refurbish his private home, what about his fellow cronies who are in government? These are the real culprits South Africa should be dealing with right now, and not the immigrants who earn too little to be of much significance to the broader sense of the South African economy.
South Africans must realise that the country would not be where it is without foreigners. The antics of Zwelithini, which are befitting more of a rambunctious and drunken anarchist – than a King, will not accrue South Africa or indeed the Zulus much goodwill in the short or long-term. In any case, we are now living in a globalised world where national economies co-exist and depend on each other to grow. South Africa is a member of SADC which has legally binding protocols that include the free movement of people. Without this openness, in the face of all the trade discrimination African countries already face, even the biggest of our economies in Africa wouldn’t survive, let alone be where it is today. Even though South Africa is the second largest economy in Africa, it is a recipe for disaster if it’s leaders alienate it in a continent of 54 countries.
It’s completely unacceptable that in the 21st century a supposed king of the Zulus can stoop this low and it will take a while for other Africans to look upon South Africans favourably, because this latest round of violent xenophobia will leave a stubborn stain on the rainbow nation. It only took a few days of violence, and the reputation of South Africa has been ruined; all because of the short-sighted runaway tongue of a Zulu King, and the silence of his Zulu President. Zwelithini, in the 21st century it’s a criminal act to incite violence!