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'Xenophobia mess is not ours alone'

28 April 2015 - 02:00 By Olebogeng Molatlhwa and Nivashni Nair

African leaders outraged by xenophobic attacks in South Africa must shoulder some of the blame. This is what President Jacob Zuma told thousands of people at the Freedom Day celebrations at the Union Buildings, Pretoria, yesterday.In off-the-cuff comments, Zuma took exception to suggestions that South Africa alone was to blame for the attacks on its foreign residents sparked by a labour dispute in KwaZulu-Natal and which spread to Gauteng."As much as we have a problem, our neighbouring countries contribute to this. It's not useful to be critical of South Africa as if we mushroom these foreign nationals and then mistreat them," he said."Even if the minority of South Africans are xenophobic, we would still need to find out what prompted the foreign nationals to come to South Africa." At least seven people, among them a 14-year-old South African boy, have been killed in the latest outbreak of violence. About 2000 foreigners have been displaced and are currently living in makeshift camps in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng."Everyone criticises South Africa as if we manufactured a problem," Zuma said, adding: "We should ask what caused the foreign nationals to be in South Africa."Zuma's comments were made as a diplomatic spat played out between South Africa and Nigeria after the latter recalled its envoy in protest in the wake of the xenophobic attacks.Zuma is preparing a formal report to the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the UN explaining the second outbreak of xenophobia in seven years.If his remarks in Pretoria yesterday are anything to go by, Zuma will lay the blame squarely at the door of several of his African counterparts following their scathing criticism of this country's handling of the latest attacks.His report will be based on inputs from leaders of organisations representing foreigners, officers of which he met on Friday. He alleges that they were scathing about their native countries.The president refused to reveal details of their grievances about their home countries, or why they left them, saying he would not embarrass other African countries.But foreigners speaking to The Times recently said South Africa was the safer option.Ahmed Nizigiyimana, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been in this country since he was 12 and feels this is his "safe option"."I was educated here and this is my home. Returning to my home country is not an option for my mother and me. We are safe here."Ethiopian shop owner Aka Bob Amaha said he had nothing to go home to. An Eritrean man, who fled after his country was plunged into a border war with Ethiopia, said he would not return even to see his aging parents."They do not insist that I go back there because they know the dangers are greater than living here."Yesterday Zuma revealed that slain Mozambican Emmanuel Sithole's real name was Emmanuel Josias.He said he was among thousands of foreigners in the country illegally and used a "false name" to evade arrest.Sithole's murder was recorded by a Sunday Times photographer 10 days ago.Zuma said the latest outbreak of violence "necessitates a more comprehensive response ... to make sure there is no recurrence of violence". This response included an updated migration policy.The Department of International Relations and Co-operation will table the new policy for public comment soon. South Africa's porous borders have been singled out as contributing to the uncontrolled influx of foreigners, especially from Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Lesotho.But Zuma yesterday said what attracted foreigners to this country was the ease with which they could integrate into society.Nigeria appeared to be back-pedalling yesterday, denying that it had recalled its envoy, International Relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said.Monyela was referring to tweets by Nigerian Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Musiliu Obanikoro, who called for rumours that the envoy had been "recalled" to be disregarded because the high commissioner had merely been "summoned for consultation".But Monyela said summoning and recalling were the "same thing in diplomacy"."If we were to summon our ambassador from Nigeria it would be a retaliation for what they have done. It amounts to the same thing."A government only resorts to that particular diplomatic step as a protest at the behaviour or actions of another government."You don't call your top diplomat for consultations willy-nilly. When you do, it's interpreted as a protest at the behaviour of the host government and the tweets confirm it," Monyela said...

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