SA Afrophobia: Mnangagwa should speak out

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Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa looks on as he gives a media conference at the State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By Paidamoyo Muzulu
THE image of Elvis Nyathi, a Zimbabwean immigrant’s burning body on a Johannesburg street jolted the collective minds of Zimbabweans to the dark age of 2008 Afrophobia attacks in South Africa.

This was when South Africans necklaced Mozambican national Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave (35) in Johannesburg. Necklacing or burning of people by mobs is not new to South Africa. It is something that was common especially against sellouts during their liberation struggle.

This was the same period that another Mozambican, Emmanuel Sithole, was attacked and stabbed in broad daylight by three South Africans for vending.

This fresh emergence of Afrophobia has been long in coming. Last year in July, South Africa faced political unrest related to the collapsing economy and the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma on contempt of court charges.

The groups started ransacking shops and looting. They said something about foreigners taking their jobs. It took over a week before a semblance of normalcy was put in place.

A commission set up by President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed that the chaos was a result of the failure of central government and intelligence services to anticipate violence. It also said that factionalism in ANC was also to blame.

South Africa last November held local government elections. The political temperatures were high and the question of migrants became an electoral issue.

Herman Mashaba’s One South Africa movement is against illegal migrants and promised to deal with them if elected. EFF’s Julius Malema went for the populist move targeting shopping malls and asking the nationalities of people working there.

The ruling party ANC did not have a solid position on migrants. Its position was based on which faction of the ANC did the leader come from.

This created room for radical elements like Nhlanhla “Lux” Dlamini to form Operation Dudula, a movement that seeks to drive all illegal migrants out of South Africa.

Operation Dudula is populist and has a fertile ground for recruits because of the poor employment statistics that have been compounded by the two-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the South African statistical agency, the country’s unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2021 rose from 34,9% to 35,3%. However, unemployment among the youths is now at a record 65,5%.

The statistics are potent for social cohesion in a country that has the widest divide between the rich and poor. Things are made worse by the environment like Alexandra informal settlement just being adjacent to Sandton, the most expensive piece of estate per square metre in Africa.

Things could get worse as South Africa moves closer to the 2024 elections where many analysts think the ANC support would dip below 50% and force it to form a coalition government. This is a prospect too ghastly to contemplate for many in the ANC who have practically lived-off the State since independence in 1994.

Coming back home, Zimbabwe has not spoken loudly against the Afrophobia attacks in South Africa. It has kept largely silent on the matter, be it at Sadc or African Union gatherings.

The silence has been driven by a number of things. These range from South Africa’s economic position and Zimbabwe’s deteriorating social and economic conditions.

Zimbabwe, since the turn of the century in 2000, has been closing down the political space. There has been cases of politically-motivated violence accompanying elections. Opposition activists have been at the wrong end of the stick. Many fled the country for safety or economic reasons.

South Africa was and still remains a destination of choice for many because of its proximity and sophisticated economy not only in Sadc, but across the continent.

Zimbabwe’s economy has continued its nosedive since 2000 and its still far from getting to pre-2000 indexes. This has had an impact on the economy as many qualified personnel migrate to South Africa in search of greener pastures.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. The economy has contracted and many are actively seeking an opportunity to leave the country and yet South Africa has its own challenges.

It should be remembered that in 2020, South Africa erected a fence on the Beitbridge border and along the Limpopo River to keep Zimbabweans and other migrants from the north from illegally crossing into their territory.

Zimbabwe should speak out. It has a duty to protect its citizens within and without its borders. This is an obligation placed on government by the Constitution.

As citizens, we need to know what our government is doing to protect its citizens. Silence does not do the trick. Every single life is important. Nyathi was a son, brother, friend, husband and parent to his four children. Their lives will be hollow without him.

Zimbabwe should engage South Africa and get assurances about the safety of its citizens.

The Afrophobia in South Africa is now worth a summit. It is dangerous for other Sadc countries to engage in “quiet diplomacy” on the matter. Signs are that things will get worse as we move towards 2024.

It is also a proven fact that factionalism in the ANC is affecting service delivery, particularly safety for all who live in South Africa.  This is a matter that will cause regional instability if not nipped in the bud.

Can President Mnangagwa stand up and be counted or he will choose to look away and ask Zimbabweans to make money by whichever means as he said during campaigns.