King Zwelithini slams media for distorting his foreigner comments

2015-04-12 15:05

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As xenophobic violence continues to spread in Durban, King Goodwill Zwelithini has again castigated the media for “distorting” his comments that foreigners should leave the country.

Three weeks ago, the Zulu monarch was reported as saying: “We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries.”

Yesterday, he accused journalists of fanning the flames by writing about xenophobia in the same way they had written about so-called black-on-black violence in the 1990s.

“You journalists are causing chaos,” he fumed.

Zwelithini spoke yesterday at the inauguration of Chief Sphamandla Hlongwa at KwaHlongwa near Maphumulo, outside Stanger. He said he had merely told people to till their land and look after their families.

His hardline stance came despite attempts by religious leaders and provincial and national government ministers to convince him to address communities affected by xenophobia. The violence began days after he spoke at a moral regeneration summit in Phongola late last month.

On Friday night, provincial government spokespeople told City Press that Zwelithini would address the issue of the attacks in his speech at Hlongwa’s inauguration, an indication that the lobbying – which included meetings with Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, Premier Senzo Mchunu and public safety MEC Willies Mchunu – had worked.

However, in his comments yesterday, the king instead tore into the media, while cooperative governance MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube looked on uncomfortably.

“The way you report in your newspapers?...?you misinterpret and distort my words to sell your newspapers,” Zwelithini said.

Also on Friday night, government leaders including Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba met in Durban to try to finalise a plan to stabilise the areas in which more than 2?000 foreigners had fled their homes and businesses because of violence. The plan includes allowing foreigners who want to remain in South Africa to do so, and to help those who want to leave to go back to their home countries.

On Friday, Catholic Bishop Rubin Phillip told City Press that religious leaders were trying to meet with the king to convince him to publicly campaign against the violence.

The king, he said, needed to publicly use his influence to call on his followers to stop the attacks.

On Tuesday night, as a mob rampaged through Chatsworth’s Bottlebrush shack settlement, Zimbabweans Memory and Abias Makhathini were forced to leave their four children with a South African neighbour and run for their lives.

The neighbour kept Melissa (10), Milton (8) and three-year-old twins Mollify and Modify hidden until Wednesday afternoon, when a heavily armed police convoy took Abias home to collect his babies.

The 34-year-old Harare-born electrician was overjoyed that his children were not physically harmed, but all the family’s belongings had been stolen or burnt.

“We have nothing left,” he said.

Memory recalled how they had to leave their children or die.

“They were marching up and down the road first with sticks and sjamboks, singing that they were going to kill us. They were burning tyres and telling us to get out. They were beating people and we knew we couldn’t get away with the children. Our neighbour took them and hid them and we ran.”

By yesterday, there were more than 1?500 people seeking refuge at the hastily established camp at the Westcliffe Sports Ground in Chatsworth. The sports field resembled an African Union of suffering as social development department officials processed the new arrivals, mainly from Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

A similar camp in Isipingo has been home to 270 people since they were moved there from the local police station to which they fled when the attacks began two weeks ago.

Daniel Dunia (38), who runs a computer repair and sales shop near the Folweni taxi rank on Isipingo’s main street, said rumours of impending attacks started days after Zwelithini’s speech, but he and his neighbours didn’t take them seriously.

“People were telling us: ‘We’re going to hit you on Monday. The king says you kwekweres [foreigners] must go.’ We took it easy, thinking they were just talking. Then on Monday, at about 10am, they started looting our shops and beating the boys,” he said.

“We called the police, but they were not able to control the situation. They escorted everybody to the police station. That was all they could do. They were unable to stop the looting. Salons, shops and general dealers were all looted,” Dunia said.

Kasai Ruvenga, a hairdresser from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo who fled to South Africa 13 years ago, echoed Dunia’s words.

“They told us ‘You must go; the king says you must go’, but we ignored it,” said Ruvenga, whose salon was cleaned out on the first day of the attacks.

“When they started attacking, there were about 100 men. Then second time, they were greater in number and they had vans with them.

“They were organised.”

Ruvenga fears for the future.

“We can’t go on living like this. The children have to be at school on Monday, but how can they go to school if we are living in a tent? In 2008, we were safe here when there was xenophobia. We closed our shop for a few days and things were fine in Durban. This is different.”

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