By John Ekongo
The xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa over the last two weeks have sparked condemnation from all over the world.
Equally, in Namibia harsh critics have come out publicly, attributing the attacks to an “invincible third force” aimed at derailing South Africa’s attempt to host the World Cup soccer tourney in 2010, a would-be first for Africa.
It is also alleged that the xenophobic attacks, especially on Zimbabwean nationals, is aimed at forcing them to go back to their country and vote for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai.
Over the weekend, the Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) issued a statement condemning the attacks.
“The xenophobic attacks, seemingly orchestrated by some sort of a third force, are intended to tarnish Africa and South Africa’s image as a tolerant and peace-loving nation,” said Clinton Bernadus Swartbooi, SPYL Acting Secretary for Information and Mobilisation.
He added that these orchestrations would create the impression that South Africa is unruly and chaotic, thus sabotaging the hosting of the World Cup tournament.
“There are those that feel that Australia should host 2010. We as Africans will not allow that to happen,” said Swartbooi.
In addition to that, the SPYL also noted “there also seems to be a thinly disguised agenda to pit African against African with the consequences that African states are at loggerheads with South Africa.”
On the other hand, Acting High Commissioner of the South African High Commission to Namibia Pieter Coetzee bemoans that such criticisms are not encouraging.
“It is ridiculous to make such statements on public television. It is based on sensation and there are no facts on the ground to substantiate these statements,” said Coetzee.
Internal leadership has labelled the deadly wave of attacks as an “absolute disgrace” and stern instructions have been issued to do anything possible to end the violence.
President Thabo Mbeki was quoted recently in South African media as saying, “Everything possible will be done to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The May 11 attacks have thus far left 52 foreign nationals dead and an estimated more than 25 000 having taken refuge at police stations, church yards and other humanitarian organisations.
The South African High Commission in Namibia said that the situation currently is calm but tense and as of yesterday morning no fresh violence had been reported. Although news agencies report that a Mozambican family was attacked by a mob in the northern Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
“There were no further incidents. It is tense, the latest figure is 52 people are dead,” revealed Coetzee.
Media reports have indicated that at least 30 Namibians were victims of xenophobic related attacks over the weekend in the informal settlement of Du Noon, Cape Town, South Africa.
South Africa is home to an estimated 3,5 million Africans who enter Africa’s largest economy for employment and better living conditions. It is further reported that some 26 000 Mozambicans had left South Africa for their home country following the attacks.
Political commentator Phanuel Kaapama noted that South Africa as a society has done tremendously well in decolonizing the state institutions, but has a long way to go in doing the same to its audience.
“What is at stake now? South Africa has gone a long way in decolonizing the institution of the state but has a long way in terms of decolonizing the South African audience.”
He said the economic system has failed to address the plight of the poor and not the foreign nationals.
“Blaming the foreigners who don’t set the price of fuel or food, in itself is a sign of lack of decolonialization of the mind.”
Kaapama suggested that the South African audience needs reassurances about economic policies from the state, adding that what is currently in place is not adequate to address the plight of the poor and unemployed in the face of the rise in the cost of living.
“It is not enough. How this situation can be resolved is that the poor need re-assurances from the state – they have lost trust in the state machinery. More will have to be done in terms of guaranteeing them … to regain the trust of the state. A very clear policy would have to be articulated.”
On the other hand the academic noted that the xenophobic attacks which erupted on May 11, can have a serious dent on the manner in which South Africa is viewed globally. Africa’s largest economy has in the past adopted a “caring brother attitude” and has at times acted on behalf of the continent when at international platforms. South Africa has been credited for its involvement in Burundi, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and championing the cause of an African Renaissance.
Of late, talks have been on the possibility of United Nations Security Council reform to allow two permanent seats from Africa, and South Africa has been understood to be one of the contenders.
This, according to Kapaama, would put a question mark over whether South Africa is really worthy of being given such a responsibility. He believes this can only be addressed if South Africa strikes a balance in its foreign policy.