King’s remark on foreigners slammed

2015-03-24 00:00

KING Goodwill Zwelithini’s anti-foreigner rhetoric at a function in Pongola at the weekend has been slammed by a leading academic on xenophobia.

The Zulu monarch was reported to have said that foreign nationals working in South Africa were changing the fabric of society, and enjoying wealth that should be directed to locals.

He is also purported to have said that foreigners should return to their home countries.

His remarks follow numerous attacks on foreign nationals, including widespread looting in the inland provinces.

Dr Loren Landau, of the African Centre for Migration and Society, rubbished the king’s claims as historically out of touch and irrelevant.

“Such comments are unfortunate and display both a historical ­amnesia and empirically questionable claims about the position of ­international migrants in South ­Africa. It suggests a vision of South Africa disconnected from the world, underplays the role foreigners played both in our liberation and in its current economic development, and suggests a kind of ethno-nationalism that is unlikely to serve anyone over the long term.

“In these statements we particularly see the dangers of strengthening leadership whose legitimacy is tied only to a specific group occupying a bounded sub-national territory. This is what the Traditional Courts Bill tried to do and part of why it was so resisted,” he said.

Landau said Zwelithini’s comments created a talking-point for politicians and alike to mobilise support. “There is obviously no direct connection between direct or indirect hate speech or scapegoating and violence. People are typically smart enough to see through these efforts to shift blame for transformation’s failures to external actors, even if they are living among us. That said, such statements help create a ‘fire pool’ of resentment from which politicians, gangsters, and others can dip in mobilising hatred for their own economic or political gain,” he added.

“The national government has often presented a contradictory position on immigration: On one hand we are instructed to be tolerant and welcoming while on the other, officials at all levels repeatedly shift blame to foreigners who are, like the third force or some mysterious demon, walking among us and leading us astray.

“It is important to recognise that simply because someone hasn’t called for the extermination or expulsion of all foreigners they may nonetheless be spreading xenophobia and hate. We would not accept a leader at any level speaking in this way about race or religion, or at least I hope we wouldn’t, and we must be wary of allowing officials’ accusations to go unchallenged however intuitively powerful they may seem,” Landau said.

Attempts to contact the Zulu Royal Household were unsuccessful at the time of going to press.

Landau was responding to comments published in the Mercury yesterday, which were attributed to the king.

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