President Jacob Zuma says South Africa is not a Xenophobic nation in an open letter to Mozambican writer

April 28, 2015 4:25 pm

South
African President got an open letter from a Mozambican
writer Mia Couto (left), one of the most prominent writers in ,
who accused of Xenophobia. Zuma has responded to the
criticism in an open letter of his own, saying that the action of a
minority should not be used to stereotype 50 million people. Read it
Zuma’s open letter below…

“My
Dear Brother, I was very happy to hear from you after a long time. It
is a pity that we are reconnecting under sad and painful circumstances
which have prompted you to write an open letter to me. I remember you from our days in , when you worked at the Information Agency and when you were editor of Tempo magazine and later of Noticias.

I
cannot forget the friendship that Mozambique accorded my comrades and
to me personally. In fact Mozambique became my second home and it
remains my home.
You
are in pain as your letter indicates, because of the deaths of
Mozambicans and the general attacks on foreign nationals in parts of our
country. South Africans are also in pain because of the tragic and
senseless killings of all seven persons in the past weeks. These are
three South Africans and four foreign nationals.  May their souls rest
in peace and may their tragic deaths unite us all in the quest for peace
and an end to violence.

The
reports we have received indicate that the attacks last week in Durban
were sparked off by the conduct of an employer who fired South African
workers who had gone on strike and employed workers from outside the
country. Even in the South African context, the employment of scab
labour usually triggers an angry reaction from workers who are on
strike. We join the country’s
trade unions in appealing to employers to avoid such behaviour of
pitting workers against one another.  The Soweto attacks in January were
triggered by the fatal shooting of a young man by a non-South African
shopkeeper. 

This
is a difficult period for our country and its people. Millions of peace
loving South Africans are in pain because they are being accused of
being xenophobic which is not true. South Africans are definitely not
xenophobic. The actions of a small minority should not be used to
wrongfully label and stereotype more than 50 million people.
Since
1994, we have worked tirelessly to rebuild our country and to reverse
the legacy of apartheid colonialism. We have made progress in building a
society that is based on the respect for the right to life, human
rights, equality and human dignity. We continue to build a society free
of any form of discrimination.  We are doing so because we know the pain
of being discriminated against because of your skin colour, language or
nationality.
You
reminded me of the hospitality and generosity that was accorded to me
by Mozambicans during my stay in your beautiful country in exile. We
agree that we benefited immensely from international solidarity and
friendship during our struggle against apartheid.  Our brothers and
sisters in the African continent in particular shared their meagre
resources with us. Many were killed for supporting our struggle for
freedom. The Matola raid in your beautiful country is an example.  It is
for this reason that we embrace our African brothers and sisters who
migrate to South Africa legally. In fact our migration policy is
advanced because we integrate refugees and asylum seekers within our
communities. They live among our citizens, they are part of us.  We are
one people as President Samora Machel said after the tragic Matola raid
in which many Mozambicans were killed by apartheid security forces.

Mozambicans
and South Africans, and also FRELIMO and the ANC, enjoy deep bonds that
go far back into our history. These are bonds created by our living
together, our working together, and of our fighting together against
colonialism and apartheid. In spite of Mozambique’s vulnerability to attacks from apartheid forces, you demonstrated an unwavering willingness to “turn a blind eye” to
MK and ANC combatants so that they could pass through Mozambique and
enter South Africa clandestinely to engage apartheid forces.
We
built our movements together in the early years of the anticolonial
struggle. We shared camps in Tanzania. Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK) cadres
fought side by side with the Angolan MPLA and the Cubans to defend
Angola’s independence.

South
Africa has not changed and has not forgotten such comradeship and
solidarity. But like most countries that have emerged from conflict, we
have deep-seated challenges.
We
appreciate the contribution of foreign nationals in South Africa. They
contribute to our economic development by investing in the economy,
bringing critical skills and through adding to the diversity that we
pride ourselves in. But there are also some complaints or problems that
citizens have raised which need to be addressed. These include the
increasing number of illegal and undocumented immigrants in the country,
the displacement of many local small traders by foreign nationals and
that some of the migrant traders operate illegally. There are also
accusations that foreign nationals commit crimes such as drug peddling
and human trafficking, that they take the jobs of locals as employers
prefer them as they are prepared to take lower wages and also complaints
about free government housing that is secured by foreign nationals. We
have emphasised that none of these grievances justify any form of
violence against foreign nationals and that it will never be tolerated
by government.  We are also pointing out that not all migrants are in
the country illegally and not all are involved in criminal activities.

The
grievances of the South African population have to be balanced with the
plight of many refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from the
continent and beyond. We therefore have a lot of work to do to find
long-term solutions. We are already looking beyond the incidents of the
past weeks.  I have appointed an Inter-Ministerial Committee of 14
Ministers to look into the broader management of migration. Drawing
support from all sectors of society, they will help us address the
underlying socio-economic causes of the tensions between citizens and
brothers and sisters from the continent and from countries such as
Pakistan and Bangladesh to prevent another flare up of violence. We have
already had consultations with all sectors in our country from
business, labour, sports, religious leaders, youth, women, children’s
sectors and many others. I am also consulting organisations
representing foreign nationals resident in the country in the process of
seeking solutions. Ministers, Premiers, Deputy Ministers and other
government leaders are all over the country speaking to the South
African population as well as part of the consultations.

In
the short-term we will also improve the implementation of the existing
migration policy including tightening controls at the ports of entry and
borders and also ensuring adherence to the laws of the country, while
protecting migrants and the local population from criminal elements who
are taking advantage of the tensions caused by socio-economic
challenges.  Work has also begun to review the country’s migration policy based on the current and recent experiences.

Our
government will rely on the cooperation of sister countries in the
continent from where most of the migrants come, as we search for
solutions.
We truly appreciate the encouraging messages from the African Union, the United Nations and other regions.
What
also gives us strength as government, is that we are working with the
full support of our peace-loving population. The peace and friendship
marches that are being held throughout the country embody the South
Africa we know and the South Africa we are proud of. That is the South
Africa which condemns hatred, violence, racism, xenophobia and all other
related intolerances.
I
invite you to join us my dear brother, as we move beyond the anger and
pain, and promote sustainable and inclusive development as well as peace
and friendship all over Africa. 
Sincerely yours,
President Jacob Zuma
Tshwane, South Africa
 
 
To read the writer’s letter, click HERE or just read it below and note that the letter is dated 20th April 2015:
 
Mr President, the xenophobia expressed today in
South Africa is not merely a barbaric and cowardly attack against “the
others”. It is also aggression against South Africa itself. It is an
attack against the “Rainbow Nation” which South Africans proudly
proclaimed a decade or more ago. Some South Africans are staining the
name of their motherland. By MIA COUTO.
We
remember you in Maputo, in the 1980s, from that time you spent as a
political refugee in Mozambique. Often our paths crossed on Julius
Nyerere Avenue and we would greet each other with the casual
friendliness of neighbours. Often I imagined the fears that you must
have felt, as a person persecuted by the Apartheid regime. I imagined
the nightmares you must have experienced at night when you thought of
the ambushes plotted against you and against your comrades in the
struggle. But I don’t remember ever seeing you with a bodyguard. 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. 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. For us, Mr President, there
was no border, there was no nationality. We were all brothers in the
same cause, and when Apartheid fell, our festivities were the same, on
either side of the border.

For
centuries Mozambican migrants, miners and peasants worked in
neighbouring 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.

For all
these reasons, it is not possible to imagine what is going on in your
country. It is not possible to imagine 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, inside and outside the country. The nightmare we are
living is more serious than that visited upon you when you were
politically persecuted. For you were the victim of a choice, of an ideal
that you had embraced. But those who are persecuted in your country
today are guilty merely of having a different nationality. Their only
crime is that they are Mozambicans. Their only offence is that they are
not South Africans.

Mr
President, the xenophobia expressed today in South Africa is not merely a
barbaric and cowardly attack against “the others”. It is also
aggression against South Africa itself. It is an attack against the
“Rainbow Nation” which South Africans proudly proclaimed a decade or
more ago. Some South Africans are staining the name of their motherland.
They are attacking the feelings of gratitude and solidarity between
nations and peoples. It is sad that your country today is in the
across the world for such inhuman reasons.

Certainly
measures are being taken. But they are proving inadequate, and above
all they have come late. The rulers of South Africa can argue everything
except that they were taken by surprise. 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. Tough, immediate and total
measures are needed which may include the mobilisation of the armed
forces. For, at the end of the day, it is South Africa itself which is
under attack.

Mr
President, you know, better than we do, that police actions can contain
this crime but, in the current context, other preventive measures must
be taken. So that these criminal events are never again repeated.

For
this, it is necessary to take measures on another scale, measures that
work over the long term. Measures of civic education, and of exalting
the recent past in which we were so close, are urgently needed. It is
necessary to recreate the feelings of solidarity between our peoples and
to rescue the memory of a time of shared struggles. As artists, as
makers of culture and of social values, we are available so that,
together with South African artists, we can face this new challenge, in
unity with the countless expressions of revulsion born within South
African society. We can still transform this pain and this shame into
something which expresses the nobility and dignity of our peoples and
our nations. As artists and writers, we want to declare our willingness
to support a spirit of neighbourliness which is born, not from
geography, but from a kinship of our common soul and shared history. 

Maputo, 17 April 2015
Mia Couto

Chairperson of the “Fernando Leite Couto Foundation” DM
Translated by Paul Fauvet

Photo of Mia Couto by Wikimedia Commons.

 

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