Xenophobic attacks embarrassing - Cele

Johannesburg - The attacks on foreign nationals over the last few weeks are embarrassing and inhumane, Deputy Agriculture Minister Bheki Cele has said.

"We can't behave like animals. There is no justification whatsoever for the way we are behaving," he told News24.

"As a South African, I went to exile myself. I stayed in several countries, African countries mostly during my exile days. I am embarrassed, I feel humiliated myself. I feel dehumanised even together with the people we are trying to dehumanise. It cannot be accepted," Cele said.

Cele, a former national police commissioner, said if he was still in his position he would have tried his best to intervene before things got out of hand, as he did in KwaZulu-Natal in 2008.

‘No justification’

His comments followed a spate of attacks on foreign nationals in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. There was no justification for the attacks, he said.

"It's a question of are they taking the jobs? Even if there is genuineness (sic) in the things we complain about, which I guess somewhere there are complaints that might be genuine, but we can't respond the way we are doing."

It has been thought that Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and President Jacob Zuma's son Edward may have played a role in starting the attacks on foreign nationals with recent public utterances they made. 

Following the attacks in Durban, Zwelithini held an anti-xenophobia imbizo with traditional leaders in Durban on Monday. Asked about whether Zwelithini's address would have a positive impact, Cele said he could not say.

However, being a Zulu himself, he said the king commanded much loyalty and respect and his intervention needed to be welcomed, albeit it being a little late.

‘Right direction’

"Let's welcome and be thankful that the king acted. It could have been earlier, I agree, but let's be thankful that he did act. We don't have the results of the impact, but the fact that he spoke is taking us in the right direction."

The presidency said seven people have been killed in the last week - three South Africans and four foreign nationals. This included the murder of Mozambican national Emmanuel Sithole in Alexandra, Johannesburg, on Saturday. Pictures of him being attacked and stabbed were published on the front page of the Sunday Times.

Cele did not believe the pictures should have been published.

"That picture could have been taken and given to police without displaying it. What's wrong with that? Take the same picture, send them to police and please spare [us]. Especially things over which you have no control over who sees it."

Children had access to newspapers and Cele did not believe it was right for them to see such brutality.

"We are over graphic [images] in the name of freedom of press," he said.

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