Maputo — Mozambique’s best known writer, the novelist and poet Mia Couto, has written an impassioned open letter to South African President Jacob Zuma, calling for vigorous measures to end the wave of attacks against foreign workers in South Africa.
Couto stressed the ties binding South Africa and Mozambique from the days of the struggle against apartheid, and how Zuma himself lived in exile in Maputo in the 1980s (when he was Chief Representative in Mozambique of the liberation movement, the African National Congress).
“I don’t remember ever seeing you with a bodyguard”, wrote Couto. “In fact it was we Mozambicans who acted as your bodyguards. For years we gave you more than a refuge. We offered you a house and we gave you security at the cost of our security. You cannot possibly have forgotten this generosity”.
“We haven’t forgotten it”, Couto added. “Perhaps more than any other neighbouring country, Mozambique paid a high price for the support we gave to the liberation of South Africa. The fragile Mozambican economy was wrecked. Our territory was invaded and bombed. Mozambicans died in defence of their brothers on the other side of the border”.
In those days the questions of borders and nationalities did not arise. “We were all brothers in the same cause”, said Couto, “and when apartheid fell, our festivities were the same, on either side of the border”.
The links between the two countries extend into the economy. Couto reminded Zuma that Mozambicans had worked on the mines and farms of South Africa “under conditions that were not far short of slavery. These workers helped build the South African economy. There is no wealth in your country that does not carry the contribution of those who today are coming under attack”.
Couto found it unthinkable “that these same South African brothers have chosen us as a target for hatred and persecution. It is not possible that Mozambicans are persecuted in the streets of South Africa with the same cruelty that the apartheid police persecuted freedom fighters”.
Furthermore the murderous xenophobia on display “is also aggression against South Africa itself”, Couto argued. “It is an attack against the “Rainbow Nation” which South Africans once proudly proclaimed”.
The South African authorities had taken measures against the violence – but they were too little too late. “The rulers of South Africa can argue everything except that they were taken by surprise”, Couto said. “History was allowed to repeat itself. Voices were heard spreading hatred with impunity. That is why we are joining our indignation to that of our fellow Mozambicans and urging you: put an immediate end to this situation, which is a fire that can spread across the entire region, with feelings of revenge being created beyond South Africa’s borders”.