Zimbabwe’s information minister said on Tuesday that President Jacob Zuma‘s comments on xenophobia during a Freedom Day speech could be interpreted as “an unfortunate justification” of the recent attacks that left at least seven dead.
Jonathan Moyo said in tweets that it was “sad” that Zuma made no outright condemnation of the violence. He accused the South African leader of “Afrophobia”.
“If SA wants an argument on how its economy was built & by whom it will get it!” wrote the minister, who is one of only a handful of top officials in President Robert Mugabe‘s government who is active on social media.
Zimbabwe has repatriated around 900 of its citizens from Durban in the wake of the attacks, which have left many Zimbabweans back home feeling angry and betrayed. Returnees have spoken of sleeping out in the bush to escape mobs intent on attacking non-South Africans and of seeing neighbours – and in at least one case a relative – butchered.
One Zimbabwean man told the private Newsday on Monday that he hid in a fridge in Verulam, north of Durban, two weeks ago as a mob ransacked his home and stole his savings.
Zuma is expected to address the xenophobia issue at Wednesday’s extraordinary SADC summit in Harare, even though the violence is not officially on the agenda of the meeting.
Moyo took issue with Zuma’s call on Monday for improvements in trade and regional integration so that “brothers and sisters will eventually no longer need to leave their countries in search of a better life”.
The Zimbabwean minister tweeted: “It comes across as an unfortunate justification of the gruesome xenophobic attacks even if unintentionally so!”
Critics of Mugabe say his controversial policies led to a surge in often-illegal migration to South Africa after 2000.
Former education minister David Coltart says that 20 000 teachers left Zimbabwe between 2007-2008 alone, when hyperinflation and food shortages were at their peak. But others point out that Zimbabweans have been travelling to South Africa in search of work for decades, going as far back as the 1920s.
Popular media entrepreneur Nigel Mugamu asked Moyo in a tweet on Tuesday if he was worried his comments “could create a diplomatic storm”.
But Moyo replied: “Freedom Day speech is public & some of us represent constituencies that have been profoundly affected by xenophobic attacks in SA.”