4 July 2008
President Thabo Mbeki has apologised on behalf of the people of South Africa to the families of those who died in the recent attacks on people from other African countries.
“On behalf of our people and the government, I humbly convey to our people, our foreign guests, all Africa and the peoples of the world, our apology that we allowed criminals in our midst to inflict terrible pain and damage to many in our society, including and in particular our foreign guests,” he said.
“We will do everything possible and necessary to ensure that we have no need in future to proffer this humble apology, which is inspired by genuine remorse.”
Mbeki was speaking at the national memorial tribute for victims of violence against foreign nationals and South Africans held the Tshwane (Pretoria) City Hall on Thursday.
The day was aimed at paying tribute to and remembering those who lost their lives due to violence during what he called the “dark days of May”, when he acknowledged that South Africans had committed unpardonable crimes against fellow Africans.
More than 60 people were killed in the attacks that began in Alexandra on 11 May and spread rapidly to other parts of the country. Cabinet ministers, ambassadors and members of the public as well as the families of those who died gathered at the Tshwane City Hall for the tribute.
‘Not xenophobia, but criminal acts’
“What happened during those days was not inspired by possessed nationalism, or extreme chauvinism, resulting in our communities violently expressing the hitherto unknown sentiments of mass and mindless hatred of foreigners – xenophobia,” Mbeki told the gathering, which included victims of the violence and displaced people.
He said the attacks had been driven by neither a dislike or hate towards foreign nationals, but predominantly by criminal elements. A total of 1 433 people had since been arrested in connection with the attacks.
Mbeki said they should bow their heads in shame because many had acted in ways that suggested that the values of Ubuntu were dead.
“Today gathered here as a representative microcosm of our country, we must pledge that never again will we allow that anybody to bring shame to the nation by betraying the values of Ubuntu and committing crime against South Africa’s visitors and travellers,” he said.
“We are proudly African not only because of our indelible contribution to human civilisation, but also because we know that the regeneration of Africa will add new humane values to human society.”