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SA scrambles to placate Africa

23 April 2015 - 02:11 By Kingdom Mabuza and Olebogeng Molatlhwa

President Jacob Zuma is to send members of his cabinet and other senior government officials across Africa to douse anger at the perceived laxness in dealing with xenophobic attacks. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians marched through their capital, Addis Ababa, yesterday in protest against the murder of their countrymen by Islamic State and in South Africa.In Nigeria, the South African consulate has been forced to close its doors after anti-xenophobia protests in Lagos.The Trade and Industry Deputy Minister, Mzwandile Masina, said cabinet ministers would travel to various countries to quell the fears and concerns of governments."The president has sanctioned all members of the executive to crisscross the continent. I will be in Zimbabwe to try and explain," he said.South Africa's trade and diplomatic relations have been tested by weeks of violence against foreigners that have killed at least seven people, forced thousands from their homes and businesses and prompted deployment of the army.Masina said the continent's leadership would be asked not to allow "opportunism" to harm important trade and political relationships between countries.That South Africa is to host the World Economic Forum and the African Union Summit in June adds to the pressure to reassure the continent and the rest of the world.Zuma admitted yesterday that his government had not learnt from the xenophobic attacks of 2008."We did what we thought was right at the time. [The violence] was controlled and went away. We had reasons to believe that it had been dealt with and would not return," said Zuma.He promised that mistake would not be repeated this time around.A thorough probe of unregistered businesses operated by foreigners would be considered. It would include illegal activities undertaken by foreign nationals, he said.Zuma noted that 4000 Zimbabweans were currently incarcerated in South African prisons, but was quick to acknowledge that South Africans, too, committed crimes.He said immigration and border controls had been discussed at a meeting of 40 organisations on migration yesterday, but he would not elaborate.Also seeking to save the battered image of the country, Business Unity SA is to set up a desk to co-ordinate input from businesses across Africa "that would be interested to know what is happening" in South Africa.Organised labour would launch a similar initiative, its representative at the migration meeting, Fedusa general secretary Dennis George, said.He spoke out against local companies employing foreign nationals - legal and illegal - often at lower pay, saying this caused resentment among South Africans, who already had to deal with low wages.Minister Masina, speaking at the Germiston Civic Centre in Ekurhuleni, said it was unfortunate that several businesses operating outside South Africa had stopped trading because of threats of retaliation for the xenophobic attacks. "It affects our trade with neighbouring countries, it affects our economy as a whole."Masina called on leaders on the continent to be responsible."Leaders can't act like ordinary citizens who out of sheer desperation act so inhumanely. Leaders must provide leadership even in difficult situations."We are calling on leaders of the continent to understand that the South African government has not killed anybody [and has] ... been at the forefront of calls for peace on the continent," Masina said.The mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mondli Gungubele, said the government had responded to a "massively" greater extent to the attacks than it had in 2008."I do not think we took it really seriously in 2008 ... we understand how deep it is now. The way our country has responded demonstrates that we are aware of the seriousness of these attacks."..

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