SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma is likely to come under intense pressure when he attends the Sadc Extraordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government in Harare next Wednesday as Sadc leaders are pushing for an urgent discussion of the wave of xenophobia sweeping through his country.
Although the summit is expected to focus on the key issue of industrialisation with experts presenting a strategy and roadmap for the region, sources said Zuma — who has since deployed his army to protect foreigners in xenophobia hard-hit areas — faces a rough ride from regional leaders some of whose citizens have been murdered in the horrific attacks.
The most affected countries in the region include Mozambique, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe which has an estimated three million citizens in South Africa, most of them illegally.
In a particularly gruesome episode in the xenophobic attacks captured on camera, a Mozambican national Emmanuel Sithole was brutally murdered in the volatile Alexandra township in Johannesburg last week.
Despite pleading for mercy, Sithole was bludgeoned and stabbed to death with knives in broad daylight, sparking international outrage and soiling South Africa’s image as a Rainbow nation.
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has been blamed for the attacks after his statement that foreigners “should pack their bags and go” because they are taking employment and business opportunities away from South African citizens.
Shortly after his reported remarks, violence against immigrants erupted in the port city of Durban. However, Zwelithini has since said he did not called for a war on immigrants, claiming he was misinterpreted by the media.
Commenting on the attacks and murder of foreigners in South Africa, Sadc executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday the regional bloc was “shocked and saddened” by the xenophobic attacks.
“We convey our deepest condolences and sympathy to bereaved and injured families and condemn in the strongest possible terms the xenophobia attacks which have taken away lives and destroyed properties of innocent Africans,” Tax said.
“We appeal to all victims to be calm, patient, and exercise restraint in the spirit of African brother and sisterhood, and we also encourage the government of South Africa to continue with efforts of calling the perpetrators to order.”
Tax said the discussion of xenophobia at the summit would be determined by the heads of state. Malawi is reportedly demanding that the issue be discussed in Harare.
Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Joey Bimha could neither confirm nor deny heads of state would discuss xenophobia.
“When we have an extraordinary summit, normally there is one item on the agenda,” Bimha said.
“Unlike when there is an ordinary summit, there will be a long list of issues on the agenda. This extraordinary summit is as a result of the fact that heads of state instructed the Sadc ministerial taskforce on regional economic integration to come up with an industrialisation strategy and roadmap for the region.
“It will be up to the heads of state themselves to discuss the xenophobia issue at the opening session if the proposal comes up. So we will have to leave it up to them.”
The United States embassy in South Africa in a statement said it was concerned at the loss of innocent lives, destruction of property, and impact on families and communities, and urged individuals involved to refrain from all forms of violence, exercise restraint, and rely on peaceful dialogue to resolve any differences
Due to the intensity of the situation, Zuma cancelled his state visit to Indonesia for the Asia-Africa Summit and took time to visit camps where thousands of foreigners fleeing xenophobia are sleeping in tents.
Some foreigners, including Zimbabweans, returned to their countries after rescue missions and buses were sent to repatriate them.
South Africa has faced a backlash from the rest of the continent after the barbaric attacks on foreigners. Mozambicans reacted angrily to the murder of Sithole, and last week South African cars were attacked with stones by a group of about 200 which blockaded the southern Lebombo border with South Africa.
According to the Moamba district (in Mozambique) police commander Alfonso Rocco, the demonstrators blocked the road for half an hour, refusing to allow cars with South African registration plates to pass.
The xenophobic attacks also forced the South African consulate in Nigeria to close after hundreds took to the streets in protests held outside the consulate and at the South African High Commission in Abuja.
South African consul-general in Nigeria, Sam Monaisa, said in an email to the South African Business Forum in that country that the closure would remain in force until yesterday.
He warned South African business forum members to stay alert and not move around unnecessarily as South African businesses and citizens became targets of threats and acts of retaliation.
The Nigerian demonstrators had given the South African authorities a 24-hour ultimatum to end the attacks or risk the shutting down of the country’s embassy in Nigeria, as well as businesses owned by South Africans in Nigeria.
In Malawi there were demonstrations and a petition was presented to the South African high commissioner in Lilongwe.
Last week Zimbabweans marched to the South African high commission and condemned the “senseless and gruesome slaughter” of fellow Africans.
The anger over the xenophobic attacks has also seen a backlash in the entertainment industry with a privately-owned radio station in Zambia, Radio QFM, issuing a statement on its website that it has “blacked out the playing of South African music effective today, April 17, in protest against xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals taking place in that country”.
South African artists were forced to cancel scheduled foreign tours.
China, the UK, and Australia have issued warnings to their citizens to be on the alert due to the ongoing anti-immigrant attacks in Durban, Johannesburg and other South African cities.
Meanwhile, government has been working tirelessly in preparation for the extraordinary summit, with continuing repairs of roads including Glenara road which is close to Airport road, and Rotten Row road next to Zanu PF headquarters.
Patching of potholes is also being done on several roads in an attempt to impress the coming heads of state.