“No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals and the looting of their shops,” Zuma told the National Assembly.
“We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms. The attacks violate all the values that South Africa embodies, especially the respect for human life, human rights, human dignity and Ubuntu.
“Our country stands firmly against all intolerance such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism. We appeal for calm, an end to the violence and restraint. ”
It was the president’s second appeal for calm in two days, following a televised address on Wednesday in which he sent the same message.
Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said the attacks showed that the country was losing sight of its values.
“My heart goes out to those foreign nationals. Growing up in Soweto, I have seen the capability of humans to inflict violence on one another,” Maimane said during the subsequent debate on the attacks.
“I have seen people being beaten and necklaced, and their property destroyed. … Our humanity is slipping away from us, and we cannot allow that. We cannot stand by as fellow human beings are tortured and murdered.”
Without naming them, Maimane reminded the chamber of comments by Cabinet ministers in recent days focusing on the frustration of South Africans as they competed with foreigners for scarce resources.
He said the State’s response should instead be to acknowledge its own failure to create jobs and reduce poverty.
“Instead of acknowledging these socio-economic root causes of the tension in our communities, there are people in powerful positions attempting to shift the blame and even condone criminality and xenophobia.”
Far harsher criticism followed from Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema who said the government itself was setting an example of resorting to violence when confronted with problems.
He told the National Assembly this was evidenced by the government’s response to striking workers and communities staging service delivery protests.
“When (Andries) Tatane protested, you killed him,” he said of the 33-year-old protester killed in Ficksburg in 2011 and cited the shooting of miners at Marikana as another example.
“You applied violence against the EFF,” he added.
Malema charged that he noticed, minutes earlier when President Jacob Zuma condemned the wave of xenophobia in an address to the chamber, that his heart did not appear to be in it.
“You body language did not suggest a leader,” Malema said, before adding that the president had failed to stop his son Edward Zuma from expressing anti-foreigner sentiment.
“You cannot even whip your own son into line.”
Malema ended his three-minute speech with a passionate plea to end the attacks that has left at least five people dead and hundreds displaced.
“Don’t kill each other, no country can survive in isolation.”
Agang MP Andries Tlouamma said xenophobic attacks showed, like the campaign of defacing contested statues, that the government had lost the ability to maintain order.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, the ANC sweep in the debate, sought to answer the president’s critics.
“Honourable Malema is probably the best student of the school of nuisance,” he retorted.
“Today is not a day for cheap political points scoring.”