Zwelinzima Vavi denies his tweets about Islamic shop owners are xenophobic

Saftu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi briefs media with Democratic Municipal  and Allied Union of South Africa, (DEMAWUSA), at Johannesburg, 27 September 2018. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Saftu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi briefs media with Democratic Municipal and Allied Union of South Africa, (DEMAWUSA), at Johannesburg, 27 September 2018. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Zackie Achmat and others have suggested the SA Federation of Trade Unions leader is flirting with Islamophobia, but he says that’s not his point.

A tweet about foreign shop owners on Friday on their way to weekly prayers by trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi had many on Twitter chastising him for alleged xenophobia and Islamophobia.

He wrote on Friday afternoon, captioning two photos of a group of Islamic immigrants: “These are new shop owners going for midday prayers. Too many things going wrong? How did their goods come this far? How did they go through boarders [sic]- were duties paid? what contributions to the tax man? What is the impact to local manufacturing sector? What’s happening to jobs?”

South Africa has long struggled with the problem of foreign shop owners being targeted in township violence, looting and even killing, which has flared up sporadically, especially since 2008.

He later wrote that it was “wrong” for people to take the law into their own hands to deal with foreign business owners.

Vavi’s tweets were criticised for being allegedly xenophobic, and against the Islamic religion. However, others said Vavi was raising valid concerns about foreigners and the laws that govern their ability to open and run businesses in South Africa.

Activist Zackie Achmat told Vavi: “Comrade @Zwelinzima1 this is one of the saddest moments for our country. Xenophobia and insinuating Islamophobia from a comrade with enormous power. Where is your anti-fascist international programme to build people’s solidarity on work, income, ecology, justice & peace?”

Vavi denied he was being hateful, telling Achmat on Saturday: “Comrade I can still no xenophobia [sic] or worse Islamophobia when pointing out that 25 years into democracy represented the wiping out of the spaza shops historically operated and owned by the Black/African owners or pointing out dumping of cheap goods that has destroyed manufacturing.”

Vavi further told Achmat, who warned that “this is a road to civil war”, that he was happy to have a private conversation with him about what Achmat called “a genuinely internationalist programme to create decent work & income security irrespective of nationality”.

He added: “I will only be happy to engage on this my leader. In 1994 we were told to open ourselves to the chilly winds of international competition. Now in 2019 we are told to do the same to mass dumping. Millions of jobs have been guillotined. When we object we are told we are xenophobic.”

He was also combative about the issue in a series of other tweets:

Others had told Vavi: “Xenophobia or racism or bigotry and anti-religion elements are all over his post. He is intolerant of others unlike him, of a different origin, and those he does not know. Why reject them? Does @Zwelinzima1 have proof of his allegations of the specific individuals in that pic?”

Another asked: “All good questions but what are you trying to encourage with these tweets? Will the fires burn again?”

However, Vavi enjoyed a lot of support, too, with one user writing: “He’s not trying to encourage anything. Are we not supposed to ask questions anymore in this country without being labelled “xenophobic”. You go to these foreigners countries and you are not allowed to open a business. Their laws are very strict.”

Take a look at some of the other responses below:

(Compiled by Charles Cilliers)

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