PRESIDENTS Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Botswana’s Ian Khama angrily clashed with their Zimbabwean counterpart, President Robert Mugabe over xenophobia in South Africa, with the two demanding that instead of blaming their neighbour, Zimbabwe and other Sadc states must fix their broken economies to curb the rising tide of immigration.
While Sadc leaders met for an extraordinary summit in Harare on Wednesday to discuss an industrialisation strategy and roadmap, the major highlight of the meeting was the recent xenophobic violence and killings in South Africa which raised a storm of debate and anger across the region.
Top government officials who attended the closed door meeting said Zuma right at the beginning asked to make a presentation after the main agenda deliberations.
Some Sadc leaders like those of Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe had come itching to confront Zuma over the sensitive issue.
“The issue of industrialisation was discussed and dealt with quickly. This was done within two hours because the leaders had already been briefed by their ministers and therefore agreed with the deliberations leading to the adoption of the document,” a source said.
After industrialisation discussions, Zuma then presented his issue in point form, saying the details would be included in his report on xenophobia to Sadc, African Union and the United Nations.
The source said Zuma spoke on a variety of measures South Africa is implementing to tackle the problem, which included an intense nationwide anti-xenophobia campaign to teach locals the need for tolerance of foreigners and immigrant’s contributions to the economy, as well as new measures on immigration laws and tightening of security at its porous borders.
Zuma also said other countries in the region should also come up with solutions instead of just criticising South Africa as he had already pointed out in his address on Freedom Day on Monday.
The South African leader this week emphasised that xenophobia was not South Africa’s problem alone. “As much as we have a problem that is alleged to be xenophobic, our sister countries contribute to this. Why are their citizens not in their countries?” he asked as he shifted the debate towards the root causes of the problem away from symptoms.
Another source said tensions were at knife-edge as Zuma made his presentation. “After Zuma’s delivery, Mugabe as the chair felt obliged to comment and that is when he got emotional and spoke at length about the xenophobic attacks,” said the source.
“Mugabe described the video which went viral on social media of a man being burnt alive to death, while blaming Zuma for the attacks and for siding with Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and his son Edward, who made remarks allegedly responsible for sparking off xenophobic violence.”
While Mugabe was still talking, Zuma is said to have immediately intervened, saying: “‘Perhaps i should have mentioned this during my presentation, the video you are describing is not recent’.
“Zuma pointed out that it was a video recast and made to appear new by people who wanted to fan xenophobic violence and anger. He said South Africa investigated the matter and the journalist who recorded that video in 1988 before South Africa’s freedom confirmed it happened in the 1980s. He then told Mugabe that the video he saw had nothing to do with the recent events.”
On the issue of siding with Zwelithini and his son, Zuma reportedly said he had spoken to Zwelithini about it who denied having said things reported in the media.
“Zuma said as for his son he strongly castigated him over his behaviour but indicated that a priest does not always bear a child who is a priest,” a source said.
Zuma also said the Mozambican national, initially identified as Emmanuel Sithole, who was stabbed in Alexandra township in Johannesburg on April 18 was not a victim of xenophobia, but crime and arrests had been made. He also told the meeting “Sithole” was an illegally immigrant whose real name was Emmanuel Josias even if his killing was gruesome and unacceptable.
Pictures of “Sithole” being stabbed to death went viral on social media after South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper story on April 19. The attack was deemed xenophobic, although Zuma insisted it was criminal.
He also said of the seven people who died during the xenophobic attacks, three were South Africans but media portrayed it as if all were foreigners to reinforce its xenophobia plot.
Sources said while Zuma confronted Mugabe on video issue, the Sadc chair as host and moderator remained quiet and did not respond as tempers flared.
“After Zuma’s intervention, Mugabe remained silent and one could feel tensions rising. Perhaps he could not comment further as he did not have evidence that the video was recent and besides he was the host and the chair,” said another source.
After the Zuma-Mugabe battle, Khama is said to have then joined the fray supporting Zuma, saying instead of focusing on xenophobia issues Sadc leaders must address the root causes of the problem that include bad leadership and economic mismanagement which trigger waves of mostly illegal immigrants.
“Khama said leaders were then better informed, thanks to President Zuma. He said, ‘Let us addres real issues and stop behaving as if South Africa is an employment bureau for the African continent’,” the source said.
“Khama went further to say ‘it is because of some of us who have mismanaged our own economies that we have an influx of foreigners into South Africa’.”
Without waiting for a response from Mugabe and others, Khama got up and immediately left the meeting at 2:14pm for the airport returning home, leaving Sadc leaders reeling from his stinging remarks.
Khama did not even wait for the Sadc group photograph as usual. Sadc leaders then ended the meeting at 3pm.
Sources said Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi also supported Zuma, saying the issue should be dealt with at continental level, not by South Africa only.
But to the other delegates’ surprise, Mugabe later told journalists he did not believe Zuma’s explanation the video was old.
“Although the South Africans say it (the video) happened in the 1980s long ago, not recently, we thought it was recent and we are still convinced it happened recently,” said Mugabe to laughter from the audience.
However, as Mugabe then castigated Zimbabweans for flooding South Africa, showing his underlying negative attitude towards local immigrants and those in diaspora.