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Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has largely been blamed for fuelling xenophobic attacks which have led to the deaths of 6 migrants and hundreds left injured in hospitals. While giving a speech at a function on the 30th of March 2015 King Zwelithini told those in attendance:
"(...) They brought untidiness to our streets, it's filthy. You can't even see what these stores were...foreigners in these areas. I know sometimes it's difficult for politicians to speak out against these things because bad doers become voters after five years. Leaders, forgive me but in this situation, I must speak. As someone who doesn't have to wait five years...as Zulu King... a nation that is respected world-wide because of its role in the fight for the liberation of Africa, I won't keep quiet when people who have no say are playing with this country. The time is now for us to have a say. I would like to ask the South African government to help us. We must deal with our own lice. In our heads, let's take out the ants and leave them in the sun. We ask that immigrants must take their bags and go where they come from."
President Jacob Zuma has condemned the violence and has established a team of ministers to put an end to it. However, president Zuma is also in an uncomfortable position as he is Zulu himself.
Soon after foreign nationals started receiving text messages and warnings from locals to pack their bags and leave the country. SBS Radio Swahili spoke with Tharcisse Balolebwani, a migrant from D R Congo who became a victim of these attacks.
Up till the day of the attacks he owned and managed a hair dressing business in Umlazi, KwaZulu Natal. He received these warnings but was assured by his neighbours and friends that everything would be fine.
The attack left him with 42 stitches on his head and a broken arm; however some of his colleagues weren’t so lucky. They were set on fire.
Mr Thacisse wants to share a message with South Africans: "God bless South Africa. I'll continue to love South Africa"
Between 5,000 to 10,000 immigrants fled their homes in South Africa, in fear of being attacked as the outbreak of anti-foreigner violence increases. The founder and director of the humantiarian organization Gift of the Givers, Imtiaz Sooliman, has helped set up five temporary camps for these fleeing immigrants, according to NBC reports, that estimate the figure in 10,000.
United Nations report says the attacks have led to displacement of more than 5,000 foreigners, some of whom included refugees and asylum-seekers.
Adrian Edwards, a spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the agency remains concerned: “The attacks in KwaZulu-Natal province began in late March following an apparent labour dispute involving South African and foreign workers and the latest population movements came on top of displacement that had taken place in January as a result of similar incidents in Soweto, near Johannesburg in Gauteng province."
Ten per cent of the South African population is migrant (5 in 50 million) and the tensions started in 2008 but it seems to be getting much worse. UN says South Africa currently hosts some 65,000 refugees and 295,000 asylum-seekers. They come from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Listen to the report in Swahili
The attacks have caused a major strain in relations between South Africa and its neighbours in the region, compatriots of some of the deceased and injured in the attacks have recommended their governments to sever all ties with South Africa including boycotting all goods and services from the country.
It’s been reported that South Africa’s minister of Foreign Affairs; Maite Emily Nkoana-Mashabane told African diplomats in an emergency meeting that. “It is with a deep sense of pain, shame, and regret that we humble ourselves and express our heartfelt apologies for these unwarranted developments.”
Meanwhile displaced foreign nationals continue to wait for assistance in make shift refugee camps which have been provided for them.
More information and news in SBS Radio Swahili, with Gode Migerano. HERE