Zuma replies to Moa Couto

South African President Jacob Zuma has replied to the open letter which Mozambique’s foremost writer, the novelist and poet Moa Couto, wrote to him last week, urging vigorous measures to end the wave of attacks against foreigners living in South Africa.

South African President Jacob Zuma
South African President Jacob Zuma

Zuma said that he recalled the days when he lived in exile in Mozambique, and when Couto was a senior journalist on various of the Mozambican media, including AIM, and the daily paper “Noticias”.

“I cannot forget the friendship that Mozambique accorded my comrades and to me personally. In fact Mozambique became my second home and it remains my home”, said Zuma. “You are in pain as your letter indicates, because of the deaths of Mozambicans and the general attacks on foreign nationals in parts of our country. South Africans are also in pain because of the tragic and senseless killings of seven persons in the past weeks. These are three South Africans and four foreign nationals. May their souls rest in peace and may their tragic deaths unite us all in the quest for peace and an end to violence”.

“This is a difficult period for our country and its people”, said Zuma. “Millions of peace loving South Africans are in pain because they are being accused of being xenophobic which is not true. South Africans are definitely not xenophobic. The actions of a small minority should not be used to wrongfully label and stereotype more than 50 million people”.

Zuma added that, since the first democratic South African elections in 1994, “we have worked tirelessly to rebuild our country and to reverse the legacy of apartheid colonialism. We have made progress in building a society that is based on the respect for the right to life, human rights, equality and human dignity”.

“We continue to build a society free of any form of discrimination”, he claimed. “We are doing so because we know the pain of being discriminated against because of your skin colour, language or nationality’.

He acknowledged “the hospitality and generosity” granted to South African freedom fighters by Mozambicans during the years of apartheid.

“Our brothers and sisters in the African continent in particular shared their meagre resources with us”, he said. “Many were killed for supporting our struggle for freedom. It is for this reason that we embrace our African brothers and sisters who migrate to South Africa legally. In fact our migration policy is advanced because we integrate refugees and asylum seekers within our communities. They live among our citizens, they are part of us”.

“We appreciate the contribution of foreign nationals in South Africa. They contribute to our economic development by investing in the economy, bringing critical skills and through adding to the diversity that we pride ourselves in”, Zuma said. “But there are also some complaints or problems that citizens have raised which need to be addressed. These include the increasing number of illegal and undocumented immigrants in the country, the displacement of many local small traders by foreign nationals and that some of the migrant traders operate illegally. There are also accusations that foreign nationals commit crimes such as drug peddling and human trafficking, that they take the jobs of locals as employers prefer them as they are prepared to take lower wages and also complaints about free government housing that is secured by foreign nationals”.

“We have emphasised that none of these grievances justify any form of violence against foreign nationals and that it will never be tolerated by government”, he stressed. “We are also pointing out that not all migrants are in the country illegally and not all are involved in criminal activities’.

“The grievances of the South African population have to be balanced with the plight of many refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from the continent and beyond”, Zuma continued. He said he had appointed “an Inter-Ministerial Committee of 14 Ministers to look into the broader management of migration. Drawing support from all sectors of society, they will help us address the underlying socio-economic causes of the tensions between citizens and brothers and sisters from the continent and from countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh to prevent another flare up of violence”.

“In the short-term we will also improve the implementation of the existing migration policy including tightening controls at the ports of entry and borders and also ensuring adherence to the laws of the country, while protecting migrants and the local population from criminal elements who are taking advantage of the tensions caused by socio-economic challenges”, he said. “Work has also begun to review the country’s migration policy based on the current and recent experiences”.

“What also gives us strength as government, is that we are working with the full support of our peace-loving population”, declared Zuma. “The peace and friendship marches that are being held throughout the country embody the South Africa we know and the South Africa we are proud of. That is the South Africa which condemns hatred, violence, racism, xenophobia and all other related intolerances”.

Addressing Couto as “my dear brother:, he invited the writer “to join us, as we move beyond the anger and pain, and promote sustainable and inclusive development as well as peace and friendship all over Africa”.

Post published in: Africa News

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