As international pressure mounts on South Africa to end the xenophobic violence on foreign citizens, officials from the ‘Rainbow Nation’ are struggling with assuring the world that their country is welcoming.
South Africa’s image has suffered a major blow following the xenophobic violence that has rocked the country over the last two weeks.
In an exclusive interview, the South African High Commissioner to Rwanda, George N. Twala, said his government was doing all they could to calm the situation.
“The events are unfortunate, insensitive and regrettable,” Twala said, adding that they do not reflect the policies of the South African government, business community and civil society.
The attacks have so far left seven people dead and an estimated 10,000 others displaced, according to media outlets in the country.
The violence has also been characterised by looting of enterprises owned by Africans and Asians and displacement of foreign nationals with most of them seeking refuge at police stations.
The high commissioner’s remarks came a day after a number of countries piled pressure on South Africa to end xenophobic attacks that started in the port city of Durban and spread to different parts of the country.
The US condemned the violence and called on South African leaders to take a stand against it.
The US State Department acting spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said the US was “deeply concerned” about the loss of lives and the impact on communities.
“We have joined the South African government and civil society leaders in strongly condemning the violence against foreigners that’s been taking place,” Harf said.
Nigerians, who are among those affected, staged mass protests in several Nigerian cities.
Nigerian officials have issued clear threats to South African firms and business interests that unless the attacks are stopped, South African investments in Nigeria will suffer similar fates as Nigerian businesses in South Africa.
There were also angry reactions in Mozambique where trucks and cars with South African plates were stoned.
Four trucks were reported to have been set on fire at a roadblock set up by a group of people near the border post with South Africa.
The Mozambican government has asked people not to retaliate against South Africans and urged its citizens not to go to South Africa.
In Zimbabwe, more than 5,000 people marched in protest to the South African Embassy in both Harare and Bulawayo.
And in Malawi, South African shops and South African Embassy were forced to shut down by protestors.
Asians have also been affected with the strongest reaction coming out of China, where the government issued a formal complaint and reportedly gave the South African President one week to reply before it asks all Chinese companies in South Africa to cease operations.
Zambia’s biggest private radio station, QFM, announced that it has “indefinitely blacked out the playing of South African music in protest against xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals taking place in that country.”
Responding to the strong reactions, Twala said the frustration and anger was understandable but appealed to other nationals to stand with his country to overcome the existing challenges.
Genesis of the violence
The xenophobic attacks are alleged to have begun after a labour dispute in Kwa-Zulu Natal province after South African employees were replaced with immigrants.
“Some speeches could have had a role in inciting the violence and this is being investigated by the civil society,” Twala said.
The envoy said that if it is indeed true that some utterances could have led to the violence, then those responsible will be held accountable.
He noted that order was being restored and calm had returned in most parts of the country with judicial procedure soon to commence to ensure justice for the victims.
The South African defence forces were supporting the police in the restoration of order by sealing off areas prone to the violence.