By Thuso Khumalo
South Africa has sent out special envoys to explain the government’s position on the recent wave of attacks on foreign nationals and their businesses.
The country has come under criticism for failing to quickly end the attacks that left 12 people dead, hundreds displaced, and property worth millions of rands looted or destroyed.
President Cyril Ramaphosa says South Africans are not xenophobic and he wants the rest of Africa to know this.
Ramaphosa says diplomats have been dispatched to several African countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia, with a clear mandate of repairing the country’s image.
“To go and explain what has happened and also to offer our apologies. And for those who have been killed, our condolences, and for those who have been injured as well. We have got to do it because our standing on the continent has always been high and this has lowered it quite considerably,” said Ramaphosa.
He said the team will also visit the African Union to assure the continental body of his country’s commitment to the ideals of Pan-Africanism and African unity.
“We would not want to see that happening to our own nationals, who are in other countries around the world because South Africans have spread themselves around the world," said the president.
After the attacks in South Africa, South African businesses and embassies in Nigeria and Zambia were attacked.
Ramaphosa felt the hostility at the funeral of former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in Harare, where the crowd booed him throughout his speech.
Back home there is still no agreement on how to explain the recent attacks on foreign nationals.
Teboho Mashota, a human rights lawyer, referred to the attacks as clear acts of xenophobia which government should take full responsibility for.
“What is happening currently is as a result of the incitement from our government. The utterances that they have been making, blaming all the problems of the city of Jo'burg, to say it’s migrants basically. Because the streets are dirty, it’s migrants. It’s crime because of migrants," said the lawyer.
But the country’s chief justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, insists that hunger is the cause, not xenophobia.
“Why are intellectuals who are South Africans not attacking other intellectuals who come from other African countries? Why are executives in the corporate sector not attacking Africans who come from other African countries? They have [enough] to eat. They have jobs. They have opportunities,” he said.
Last week, hundreds of foreign nationals affected by the attacks in South Africa, including Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, and Nigerians, were airlifted to their home countries.
A Zimbabwean group carried home the body of a man who was burnt to death during the attacks.
Experts warn that if the South African government does not address socio-economic conditions and poor policing that allowed the attacks to happen, the violence will resurface again.