Words cannot fully express the sadness and shame I personally feel about the horrific and barbaric incidents of violence and xenophobia that are currently taking place in South Africa. This is our darkest hour; a violent minority has destroyed so much of the goodwill built by the late President Mandela within South Africa, on the continent of Africa and with the rest of the world.
No grievance no matter how legitimate, no cause no matter how noble can justify the wanton killing of fellow human beings, destruction of their property, looting of their shops and chasing people from their homes. The scenes of fellow Africans, fellow human beings, innocent people being burnt alive, being chased by mobs, being hacked to death and being intimated have shocked the whole world. These scenes have brought understandable anger across Africa and around the world about South Africa and its people.
Millions around the world ask questions that we are all battling to answer:
- How could we treat other Africans in this way?
- How could humans behave so brutally against other human beings?
- What has sparked these violent attacks of fellow Africans?
- Why is there such hatred and violence against foreigners in South Africa?
- Why has the response from the government and other leaders been so slow?
- Does the vast majority of South Africans support or condone these xenophobic attacks?
At the moment we are numb, we are horrified, shocked and ashamed. In the fullness of time we will have to do a lot of soul searching to find honest answers to these questions. The priority, for now, is to stop these senseless killings, ensure that fellow Africans are protected and that South Africans stand up to the violent minority. In addition to this, we have to support the families of the six people who have died so far, provide medical support to the dozens injured and accommodation, shelter and material support to the hundreds displaced, safe and humane passage to those being repatriated and security and assurance to the millions of Africans who will remain in South Africa in their schools, homes, places of employment and businesses.
I, together with the vast majority of South Africans have to do much much more in the coming days, weeks and months to stand up against xenophobia, criminality, prejudice, tribalism, racism and all forms of bigotry. There are a number of initiatives that are starting to take shape with individual South Africans taking a strong and public stand whilst the authorities are taking a stronger line on criminality and violence. We hope all these steps will bring these attacks to a swift end.
However, I must caution that to arrest the current crisis may take more time than we would all want because of the following:
- African foreign nationals are embedded in communities across the country, from rural areas to urban areas, this makes them vulnerable to opportunistic attacks virtually from any part of the country;
- The level of misinformation being spread about real or perceived attacks is causing anxiety to millions of foreign nationals as they battle to decide which threats are real and which are false;
- The failure of our intelligence services and the poor initial response by the authorities has allowed more copy-cat attacks as the attacks moved from parts of Durban to parts of the greater Johannesburg area;
- The role played by criminals, unruly youth and mobs has taken more of a criminal nature to these attacks with more focus on the shops for looting purposes than just an attack on foreign nationals for the sake of removing them from their homes. This makes these attacks more and more opportunist and criminal;
- There has been more focus on apportioning blame, finding scape goats and playing politics among political parties, government agencies and leaders in society instead of focusing on arresting the phenomenon before it spreads.
I still hope though, that we can still bring this to an end soon and that all our leaders and our people will take even more steps to bring calm and normality.
The reality, however, for South Africa, is that with each passing day, every violent death and more ugly scenes across our screens and social media, its image will be tarnished. The sympathy and solidarity we enjoyed at the death of our icon Nelson Mandela will turn into anger, condemnation and even hatred for anything South African or associated with it. This may spill over to retribution against South African goods, services, citizens and businesses. The extent of this retribution will depend on how long the violence continues here in South Africa. We pray and hope that this will come to an end soon so that we can begin the arduous task of reconciliation.
I have worked on the greater African continent since 2001, I have traveled the length and breadth of this continent, working in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Angola, DRC, Ghana, Namibia and Nigeria, I have done countless visits covering hundreds of kilometres and staying over in so many towns. Throughout all these visits, in all these years, I have been treated like one of you, embraced as a brother and a colleague. I have stayed in each country for long periods, covering more ground than most other visitors and visiting areas that were considered to be too dangerous. Throughout this time, I have never once felt alienated, mistreated, threatened or fearful. I have always felt at home and part of each amazing country.
I would like to personally apologize to each of you, your families, and the whole of the African community for the horrific acts performed by a violent minority in my country. I would also want to assure you that the vast majority of South Africans are God-fearing, peaceful people who want to live with others in peace and harmony. I know and fully appreciate that it will take a long time for you and fellow Africans to trust us as South Africans again, to accept our intentions for peace. I and many others will begin the process of rebuilding and hopefully time will help us to heal, forgive, but never forget.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly at this time, my prayers and thoughts are with the six families who lost their loved ones so violently; the dozens injured through senseless violence, the hundreds who are either in transit camps or being repatriated to their home countries and the millions of fellow Africans who currently live in fear and uncertainty. May God be with them through these dark times and provide light and hope.
May God Bless my country and provide it healing from hatred and division.
I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive us, to understand and hear the voices of those who prefer peace than violence.
Africa will rise!