THE JOHANNESBURG SUNDAY TIMES
Mbeki calls for probe into attacks
Oct 17, 2010 12:00 AM | By NKULULEKO NCANA
Former president Thabo Mbeki remains convinced that the 2008 violent attacks against foreigners were not motivated by xenophobia.
MBEKI: ‘If hatred of others who are different were the reason, whites would have been the targets’
If they were, he said, the majority of the victims of the attacks would have been white.
In an interview with the Sunday Times following the launch of his Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute this week, the former president said South Africa still owed the world an explanation as to what had caused the 2008 violence.
“These things took place, people were killed and all sorts of terrible things happened. And the thing surely must be stopped because it is wrong and it is bad and we have to pursue it.
“But in order to stop these kinds of attacks, we have got to understand them properly …
“And if people just make a declaration that South Africans are xenophobic, that will lead to particular kinds of action which, I am certain, would not produce the kind of results we are looking for. Xenophobia is fear and the hatred of others who are different,” Mbeki said.
And if the hatred of “others who are different” were the reason for the attack, white people would have been the obvious targets.
“When I walk down the streets of Johannesburg and this other black person approaches me, there is no way (of) my telling that they are Zimbabwean or Mozambican. There is nothing there that says ‘ah, this is the enemy I must hate.’
“But if a white person comes up, they are so different.
“So I am saying that if there was xenophobia, I would expect it to be expressed against people who might stand out as being different from me and also, given our history, these are the people that oppressed us. But you don’t have any evidence of racism among our people,” Mbeki said.
The “root cause” of the violence that left more than 60 people dead and scores of others homeless, still needs to be investigated and accurately reported, he said.
Mbeki said preventative measures should be put in place to avoid a flare-up of such attacks in the future. But to do so, a proper diagnosis was needed in order to establish what had happened in those communities to provoke the violence.
He said because Africans on the continent had been “shocked” by the killings of foreigners in the country, an objective account from the South African government would ease the concern of our counterparts elsewhere in the world.
“I am quite sure when the continent gets this report, which will be an objective report, they would breathe a sigh of relief because there is a close attachment,” Mbeki said.
“But so long as the message to the rest of the continent that these attacks took place as a manifestation of xenophobia – that message came from us. It is us who said that. But why did we say it?”
He said South Africans had a “strong sense of solidarity” with other African countries as they supported the struggle against apartheid. And to continue on this path of solidarity, South Africa needs to prove that the attacks that took place were not motivated by hate for foreigners by the locals.
“Let us get to the root causes (of) this thing and communicate it to the rest of the continent, which I am certain … would confirm the statement that our people are not in the grip of xenophobia,” Mbeki said