Anxiety and anger gripped the country yesterday as xenophobic attacks targeting foreigners in South Africa spread from Durban to Johannesburg, home to a large percentage of the over three million Zimbabweans living in the neighbouring country.
Local opposition politicians and social commentators slammed the Zanu PF government for taking long to react to the attacks.
Ousted former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and United States-based Zimbabwean Chimurenga musician Thomas Mapfumo yesterday criticised the government for taking too long to react to the attacks and repatriate its citizens. This came as a handful of Zanu PF and MDC-T Members of Parliament marched to the South African embassy in Harare where they presented a petition pleading with the Pretoria government to stop the attacks which have reportedly left about 10 foreigners dead.
“I had a heartbreak after watching how my people are suffering in South Africa,” Mujuru said yesterday.
Mapfumo also weighed in saying: “What is worrying is the deafening silence by the Sadc and African Union in acting against xenophobia in South Africa. Xenophobia must be condemned and it must stop!”
President Robert Mugabe, who is both Sadc and AU chairperson, has remained mum since the attacks worsened this week although Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi yesterday said government had despatched a team of police officers to South Africa to protect stranded Zimbabweans.
“We are working out modalities to help our nationals who are in South Africa, we are monitoring developments there with keen interest and we have dispatched a team there to assist so that we protect our nationals,” Mohadi said.
“We are worried about the welfare of our citizens and we will not watch helplessly our nationals being subjected to such treatment. We have engaged our counterparts and are also trying by all means possible to help them (those in South Africa).”
The attacks increased over the past two weeks as South Africans accused foreigners of engaging in criminal activities and taking away their jobs. Reports yesterday indicated that the wave that was initially concentrated in Durban had moved into central Johannesburg with some Zimbabweans being reported to be hiding in basements of various buildings.
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward recently fuelled the attacks on foreigners when they demanded that they should go back to their countries accusing them of peddling drugs.
This is not the first time that foreigners in South Africa have been targeted. In 2008 similar attacks left over 62 foreigners dead.
But former Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo yesterday said Mugabe was reluctant to repatriate the affected Zimbabweans back home for fear that they would demonstrate against his government’s failure to provide them with jobs.
“Mugabe thinks that most Zimbabweans in South Africa are MDC-T and would rise against him if they come back,” Gumbo said.
Gumbo, who was fired from Zanu PF for allegedly conniving with Mujuru in a plot to unseat Mugabe, said as Sadc and AU chairperson, Mugabe, should have taken a leading