“We cannot be so arrogant to forget what our African neighbours did for us. We cannot forget who supported our freedom fighters,” said Hendricks. The MJC joined other South African voices speaking out against xenophobic attacks in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
“These xenophobic attacks are against the values entrenched in the spirit of the Constitution and should be stopped by the highest authority in this country,” said Hendricks. He said this was a decisive moment which would determine if South Africa was still synonymous with freedom and democracy.
Hendricks said foreign nationals were easy targets for those frustrated by a lack of change in economic circumstances since 1994. “There’s a need to change and educate our people’s mindset towards foreigners – they are here because of circumstances in their countries,” he said.
Hendricks said that he believed there was a “serious political element” driving the attacks. “We cannot point fingers but it is clear a political element sees South Africa’s current situation as conducive to denting the country’s image”.
The MJC called on the interfaith movement and civil society to work together to tackle xenophobia. Bram Hanekom, who was speaking in his capacity as director Passop, a non-profit human rights organisation devoted to fighting for the rights of asylum-seekers, refugees and immigrants in South Africa, said they were hoping to join forces with the MJC in showing support for African foreign nationals.
On allegations comments made by King Goodwill Zwelethini and President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward incited violence, Hanekom said there shouldn’t be a “fall guy”. “There is a fixation on the supposed utterances by the King and a relative of our President. We shouldn’t put the blame on one individual,” he said.
On the allegations, Hendricks said he hoped those with prominent positions were responsible with their words. Both Hendricks and Hanekom commented on the allegations militant group Boko Haram had threatened to attack South Africa if xenophobic attacks did not stop. “There is a clear desire to demonise Islam,” said Hanekom.
“This is something we do not take lightly. We believe this is a seriously sensitive political issue, one which the community is not yet aware of,” said Hendricks. Attacks and the looting of foreigners’ shops started in Isipingo outside of Durban almost two weeks ago and spread to KwaMashu, Umlazi and Chatsworth. Over seventy people were arrested and faced various charges of public violence, business robberies, murder, attempted murder, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and malicious damage to property.
In Gauteng, shops were closed in Johannesburg on Wednesday in fear of attacks .