South African Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini condemned attacks on foreign nationals as he tried to deflect criticism that his comments last month fueled violence that left at least seven people dead.
Immigrants must be protected, irrespective of their nationalities, Zwelithini told thousands of members of South Africa’s biggest ethnic group at a stadium in the eastern port city of Durban. Authorities must investigate the possibility of a “third force,” which is instigating the violence under the guise of Zulus, he said.
The monarch was cited by the Durban-based Mercury newspaper on March 23 as saying in a speech that foreigners were depriving South Africans of economic opportunities and should return home. While the king’s office said his comments were misinterpreted, Johannesburg-based ENCA has broadcast an audio recording, which it said was Zwelithini speaking in Zulu, calling on immigrants to “take their bags and go back to where they come from.”
“There are many vile things being written in the news about me and the Zulu people,” Zwelithini, who was dressed in a formal business suit and tie, told his supporters on Monday. “I ask you to calm down and have peace as many people have died and I ask you to avoid the trap being set.”
Attacks against immigrants that began in Durban and surrounding townships less than two weeks ago spread to Johannesburg last week. A Mozambican man’s murder in Alexandra township in Johannesburg on April 18 was captured by photographs on the front page of the Sunday Times yesterday.
In January, at least six people died during attacks and looting of shops owned by mainly Somalis, Ethiopians and Pakistanis in townships around Johannesburg.
“Whether it be in rural or urban areas I ask all to adhere to the rule of law and show that we know how to behave,” Zwelithini said. “We are a nation that loves peace. I ask for peace to reign, dear Zulu people.”
He called for representatives of foreign nationals and the government to meet with the monarch to draw up a peace accord over the next three months.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of South Africa’s Inkatha Freedom Party and a member of the Zulu royal family, also called for an end to attacks against immigrants.
“Chasing out other nations will not solve our problems because they are our problems,” he told the crowd.
Several Zulu members in the crowd wore traditional garb, such as animal skins, and sang and danced with spears.
The anti-foreigner violence is the worst since 2008, when about 60 people were killed. The tension comes against the backdrop of a weakening economy and a 24 percent jobless rate. While the government blames criminals rather than xenophobia for much of the violence, the presence of thousands of immigrants in South African townships has stoked resentment among some locals who see them as competitors for jobs and housing.
President Jacob Zuma canceled a state visit to Indonesia this week and visited a displacement camp for foreign nationals in Durban on the weekend to reassure them that the government was doing all it can to resolve the violence.
Governments from Nigeria to Zimbabwe and Malawi have condemned the violence and called on South African authorities to take decisive action to contain it. Companies including Sasol Ltd. and Kenmare Resources Plc have repatriated South African employees working in Mozambique following threats of reprisal attacks.
The violence “is a matter of great concern to all members of the Southern African Development Community region and the continent as a whole,” Zambia’s government said in a statement. Zambians living in South Africa should remain cautious, though no nationals have been reported as victims of attacks so far, it said.
Six busloads of Zimbabweans arrived in their country from South Africa Monday and more are expected, the director of Zimbabwe’s Civil Production Unit, Madzudzo Pawadyira, said by phone from the border town of Beitbridge.
“We are assisting people with new identification documents, because there are some who lost their documents during the cross fire,” he said. “It’s difficult to say how many people we are expecting, we will keep sending the buses to collect more people.”