Mbeki says attacks on foreigners not xenophobia

The attacks on foreigners in the “dark days of May” were not xenophobia, but “naked criminal activity”, President Thabo Mbeki said in Pretoria on Thursday.

“What happened during those days was not inspired by possessed nationalism, or extreme chauvinism, resulting in our communities violently expressing the hitherto unknown sentiments of mass and mindless hatred of foreigners—xenophobia,” he told a gathering at the City Hall.

Speaking at a tribute to the victims of the attacks, Mbeki said the violent masses had been driven neither by antipathy nor a hated of foreigners.

While some might say he was in denial of “our reality”, no one would hear ordinary South Africans saying they would attacks immigrants or hated them because they were foreigners.

“I heard it said insistently that my people have turned or become xenophobic ... I wondered what the accusers knew about my people which I did not know.

“And this I must also say—none in our society has any right to encourage or incite xenophobia by trying to explain naked criminal activity by cloaking it in the garb of xenophobia.”

He said it would take a considerable period of time before a better life for all was achieved.

“None of us can be happy or satisfied with this reality.”

He said “the unpardonable crime” made it seem that the dreams of many generations had been betrayed.

Mbeki said those gathered should bow their heads in shame because many had acted in ways that suggested that the values of ubuntu were dead and lay in the graves of those who had been killed.

He pledged that all those responsible for the deaths of more than 60 people and the displacement of hundreds and thousands, would face the full might of the law.

“On behalf of our people, I humbly convey ... our apologies that we allowed criminals in our midst to inflict terrible pain and damage to many in our society, including, and particularly, our foreign guests.

“We will do everything possible and necessary to ensure that we have no need in future to proffer this humble apology which is inspired by genuine remorse,” he said. - Sapa

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