South Africa's xenophobia on a par with apartheid laments Tutu

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town speaking at the World Council of Churches in Geneva on April 20, 2008.

Rainbow nation is a term coined by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu some time after he had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in South Africa.

He used it to describe the optimism of post-apartheid South Africa, when the nation avoided a bloodbath to negotiate its way out of a state of legalized racism in the 1990s.

But on April 17 the former Anglican leader in South Africa had some harsh words about South Africa.

"Our rainbow nation that so filled the world with hope is being reduced to a grubby shadow of itself more likely to make the news for gross displays of callousness than for the glory that defined our transition to democracy under Nelson Mandela," said Tutu.

"Yet here we are, less than a generation later, witnessing hate crimes on a par with the worst that apartheid could offer," he lamented in a statement issued by The Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation.

"I will pray for the perpetrators of xenophobic violence just as I prayed for PW Botha [former apartheid president] and his security forces; that their eyes may be opened and they see the fault of their ways," the archbishop emeritus of Cape Town said.

The same day as Tutu spoke the United Nations refugee agency issued a statement in Geneva that in South Africa, xenophobic attacks over the last three weeks have killed six people and displaced over 5,000 foreign nationals.

Those affected include refugees and asylum-seekers in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The attacks began in late March following an apparent labour dispute involving South African and foreign workers.

The UNHCR said it is extremely concerned welcoming the response by the government in trying to contain the situation and provide assistance to those who have had to flee their homes.


"Nineteen years ago, yesterday, we convened the first public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – in the East London City Hall," said Tutu.

"It was as if the nation was electrified by the wails of Nomonde Calata, telling of the death of her husband, Fort. Later that week, many of us broke down as we listened to Singqokwana Malgas, a brave but broken man in a wheelchair, describe his torture at the hands of police," Tutu recalled.

"The reason for the commission shining a light on the past was precisely to contribute to the processes of national healing and ensuring that we never committed such foul deeds again."

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has expressed his distress at the suffering of Mozambicans targeted by anti-foreigner pogroms in the South African port city of Durban.

South African President Jacob Zuma had appealed for a calm in an address to parliament on April 16, but some people have criticized the government's response.

The latest spate of attacks this year in South Africa began after the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, who is an ally of the president, said that immigrants should "take their bags and go."

Zulus comprise one of South Africa's largest ethnic groups. "We must deal with our own lice," he said, also complaining about foreign-owned shops. However, Zwelithini claims that his comments were distorted by the media.

The Washington Post reported that Zwelithini'a comments fanned the flames in Durban, where Zulus comprise the largest ethnic group.

President Jacob Zuma's son Edward has also been responsible for inflammatory comments, reported the Daily Maverick.

He said the government should stop "unnecessarily accommodating" foreign nationals as South Africa was sitting on a ticking time bomb.

"People think that I am being xenophobic but I am not, I am just trying to make a point that we have a problem," he told News24.

"All those that are in this country illegally must leave. I do not blame them [South Africans] for being angry but what can government do? Home Affairs and the South African Social Security Agency are taking care of them but South Africans will still be angry," Zuma's son said.

On April 14 the Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada foundations issued a joint statement against the xenophobic attacks. "This is the latest manifestation of a phenomenon which has been troubling our democracy for a long time," the foundations said.

"For too long South Africans in leadership positions have either ignored the crisis or stoked the fires of hatred."

"We call on all South Africans to take responsibility for embracing the hospitality that defines our democratic order and to work together to find solutions to a problem which is destroying lives and bringing South Africa shame internationally," the foundations said.

In 2008, post-apartheid South Africa saw its worst bout of violence, when anti-immigrant hysteria led to the deaths of more than 60 people, mostly African migrants.

Some analysts say high unemployment and a failure to address growing inequality are to blame for a wave of anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa.

"We believe that the cause of the xenophobic attacks is policy failure by the government," said Mienke Mary Steytler, of the South African Institute of Race Relations.

"High unemployment and inequality are not being tackled."

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