Domestic political reaction on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in South Africa

Thabo_Mbeki_2003

On 21 May, then-President Thabo Mbeki approved a request from the SAPS for deployment of armed forces against the attacks in Gauteng. It is the first time that the South African government has ordered troops out to the streets in order to quell unrest since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Several political parties blamed each other, and sometimes other influences, for the attacks. The Gauteng provincial branch of the ANC has alleged that the violence is politically motivated by a “third hand” that is primarily targeting the ANC for the 2009 general elections.  Both the Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, and the director general of the National Intelligence Agency, Manala Manzini, backed the Gauteng ANC’s allegations that the anti-immigrant violence is politically motivated and targeted at the ANC. Referring to published allegations by one rioter that he was being paid to commit violent acts against immigrants, Manzini said that the violence was being stoked primarily within hostel facilities by a third party with financial incentives.

Helen Zille, leader of the official opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA), pointed to instances of crowds of rioters singing Umshini wami, a song associated then-president of the ANC Jacob Zuma,  and noted that the rioters also hailed from the rank and file of the ANC Youth League. She alleged that Zuma had promised years before to his supporters to take measures against the immigration of foreign nationals to South Africa and that Zuma’s most recent condemnation of the riots and distancing from the anti-immigration platform was not enough of a serious initiative against the participation of fellow party members in the violence.  Both Zille and the parliamentary leader of the DA, Sandra Botha, slammed the ANC for shifting the blame concerning the violence to a “third hand”, which is often taken in South African post-apartheid political discourse as a reference to pro-apartheid or allegedly pro-apartheid organisations.

Zuma, in turn, condemned both the attacks and the Mbeki government’s response to the attacks; Zuma also lamented the usage of his trademark song Umshini wami by the rioters. Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe called for the creation of local committees to combat violence against foreigners.

Zille was also criticised by Finance Minister Trevor Manuel for being quoted in the Cape Argus as saying that foreigners were responsible for a bulk of the drug trade in South Africa.

In KwaZulu-Natal province, Bheki Cele, provincial community safety minister, blamed the Inkatha Freedom Party, a nationalist Zulu political party, for stoking and capitalising on the violence in Durban. Both Cele and premier S’bu Ndebele claimed that IFP members had attacked a tavern that catered to Nigerian immigrants en route to a party meeting. The IFP, which is based primarily in the predominately ethnically-Zulu KwaZulu-Natal province, rejected the statements, and had, on 20 May, engaged in an anti-xenophobia meeting with the ANC.

Grassroots social movements came out strongly against the 2008 xenophobic attacks calling them pogroms promoted by government and political parties.  Some have claimed that local politicians and police have sanctioned the attacks. They have also called for the closure of the Lindela Repatriation Centre which is seen as an example of the negative way the South African government treats African foreigners.

Gepos Bon Carolyne Ahiambo Ngara vlugtelinge in Suid-Afrika

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