To say we are shocked by South Africa’s Minister of Police, Mr Fikile Mbalula’s recent outburst on Zimbabwe, Zimbabwean nationals resident in his country and their leader, President Mugabe, is to grossly underestimate our feelings.
We can’t put it in words. His performance while addressing the media at the South Africa Police Services training Centre in Pretoria on Tuesday just left us speechless. But we have to say that we have never felt as insulted and disrespected as we did on that day.
“There are people who come here from Zimbabwe, and they cross the line here. They run away from the military in Zimbabwe and they come here and promote criminality. There are Zimbabwean ex-soldiers who are in this country, robbing banks and promoting criminality. They are running away from uncle Bob there. In Zimbabwe once you are a soldier, you are a soldier for life. You can’t get out of it. So to get out of it they run to South Africa, then they come here and rob banks. They are on the payroll of criminals, and we can’t trace them.”
With utmost derision he added: “Zimbabweans . . . are working in our kitchens, they are everything, highly educated people . . . The people working in your kitchens are doctors. They are more educated than you. They are from Zimbabwe.”
We are unsure if even the most racist Boer who, as we all know, regard South African blacks and other blacks elsewhere as a sub-human species, would have spoken in the tone and language Mr Mbalula used on Tuesday.
He demonstrated a kind of crass ignorance, insensitivity, disrespect, arrogance and xenophobia you cannot associate with a caveman. Some often dismiss performances such as that Mr Mbalula gave as the work of an uneducated person. However, we will not insult those with no conventional education for a lack of it does not mean lack of the human element.
Mr Mbalula please give us evidence of anyone who is running away from President Mugabe, whom, to us, you most provocatively describe as “uncle.” Mr Mbalula, please give us the reasons why those people are running away from our President. Mr Mbalula, please give us evidence that soldiers in our country serve for life. Also, do you really think it is true that there are trained Zimbabwean medical doctors who find it more rewarding to take up domestic work in South Africa than working here?
We expect him as a minister in a government of a friendly country to back up his remarks with facts but it is obvious he does not have evidence to prove his wild claims.
Instead of indulging in unchecked rhetoric, Mr Mbalula must quickly get accustomed to diplomatic etiquette. If he can, he can learn from the honourable way in which his finance ministry colleague, Mr Malusi Gigaba, articulated the issue of Zimbabwe during his time at home affairs. Before his recent reassignment, Mr Gigaba distinguished himself as a person with a profound understanding of issues and inter-state diplomacy when discussing xenophobia and the residence status of some Zimbabweans in his country.
Zimbabwe, through our Ambassador to South Africa, Mr Isaac Moyo, responded to Mr Mbalula’s remarks by formally raising the matter with the South African government.
He later told The Chronicle:
“We have many structures in our bilateral cooperation arrangements that are specifically there to assist one another and this includes the police and the defence forces. The South African government has not approached us to even tell us about what we saw being flighted in the media.
“In fact, we got surprised by the inclusion of certain elements in the South African Police Minister’s statements claiming that people in the Zimbabwe National Army don’t retire, and that they are running away from uncle Bob. We think this is casting unnecessary aspersions and we know that retirements and resignations in the ZNA are as ordinary and normal as anything.
“The claims in this regard are completely false and we think it is regrettable to peddle things that are not correct and to then use them as grounds for issuing certain positions.”
We demand that Mr Mbalula retracts his remarks and apologise to President Mugabe as an individual and Zimbabweans in general for impairing their dignity.
We don’t condone criminality, whether it is done by Zimbabweans, South Africans or anyone but one nationality cannot be responsible for all bank robberies in South Africa. Where Zimbabweans commit crime, only the criminals must be condemned and punished not to have anyone making sweeping statements about Zimbabweans.
However, our sixth sense tells us that instead of totally condemning Mr Mbalula, we should actually pity him for his unministerial ignorance, even though he seems proud in it. Indeed, we feel sorry for fellow blacks who have a tendency of making fun of Zimbabweans and the economic challenges they are facing. What these people lack is an appreciation of the real cause of the socio-economic challenges we are facing. Mr Mbalula and those like him must be told that Zimbabwe is in this because its leadership reclaimed their land from white settlers. To punish them for this, those who run the global economy decided to make our “economy scream,” in the words of former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Chester Crocker.
What Zimbabwe is going through can easily happen to anyone, anyone who dares the powerful. We feel sorry for those who think that they are “independent and rich” yet their people are crying for land and equal opportunity; yet their people earn five times less than whites doing the same jobs and yet as high as 97 percent of their economies are controlled by as low as eight percent of their populations who happen to be whites.