We bow our heads in shame: Mbeki

26 May 2008

South Africa had been shamed and humiliated by the wave of anti-foreigner violence that had broken out in parts of the country over the past two weeks, President Thabo Mbeki said in a special televised address to the nation on Sunday night.

At least 40 people have been killed and over 25 000 left homeless since mobs began attacking migrants from African countries in townships and informal settlements in and around Johannesburg and other parts of the country.

“The shameful actions of a few have blemished the name of South Africa through criminal acts against our African brothers and sisters from other parts of the continent, as well as other foreign residents especially from Asia,” Mbeki said.

The “violence and criminality” of the past fortnight was opposed to “everything that our freedom from apartheid represents”, going against “everything we have sought to do to build a humane and caring society built on the values of ubuntu.”

The government had instructed the police, army and intelligence services to do “everything necessary to stop and apprehend the killers and looters, and ensure that everybody in our country lives in conditions of safety and security”, Mbeki said.

Over 250 “alleged perpetrators” of the violence had been arrested, Mbeki added, noting that people’s concerns over housing, jobs and crime “can and must be addressed in a manner that is consistent with the dignified, humane and caring characteristics that define the majority of our people – not through criminal means.

“Humanity, democracy and protection of the law are indivisible. What begins as attacks on people from other countries also involves, as we have seen, the killing, rape and looting of property belonging to fellow South African citizens.”

Mbeki noted that “many of our people, black and white, have come out to condemn this barbarity, offering food, shelter and clothing to those affected.

“We commend and thank all these patriots and appeal to them to continue their good work, to reject and isolate the criminals in our midst and extend a hand of friendship to our foreign guests, who are nothing more than our fellow human beings.”

At the same time, the country’s National Disaster Management Centre had been working with government departments, business, religious and humanitarian organisations, as well as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, “to respond to the humanitarian requirements of those who have been displaced.”

The government had also set up a special task team to investigate the causes of the violence and the steps needed to prevent its recurrence.

Mbeki said the government remained “firmly of the view that it would be wrong to isolate and segregate our foreign guests in special camps. Instead, we must build on the tradition of many decades of integrating our foreign guests within our communities.”

South Africans, Mbeki said, should never forget that “many people from other African countries helped to build our liberation movement”; that South Africa’s economy “was built by the combined labour of Africans drawn from all countries of our region”; and that “our own progress and prosperity is dependent on the progress and prosperity of our neighbours and other African countries.”

“This means that we must remain firm in our commitment to work hard to achieve the goal of the renewal of our continent, understanding that again, in this instance, an injury to one is an injury to all.”

SAinfo reporter

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