Politicians and the generality of the people fear Mbalula’s remarks could trigger xenophobic attacks against fellow citizens living in the neighbouring country.
Early this week, Mbalula claimed soldiers leave the military in Zimbabwe and find their way to SA where they commit crimes, rob, terrorise and kill.
“Yes, they are from Zimbabwe. There are people who come from Zimbabwe, who run away from the military and they come and promote criminality in South Africa,” he said.
“That is the truth. Why shouldn’t I tell that truth? There are Zimbabwean ex-soldiers who are in this country, robbing banks, promoting criminality,” he went on.
“They come into this country — they rob, they terrorise, and they kill. That’s what they do. So we arrest them. We have got them.” Mbalula said, urging members of the South African Police Service to toughen their stance against criminals in the country.
He further said: “They (soldiers) are running away from uncle Bob (Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe) there”.
“Zimbabweans are working for us in this country. Very good Zimbabweans. They are working in our kitchens, they are everything, highly educated people. If there is anything that . . . Mugabe did was to educate his people. The people working in your kitchens are doctors. They are more educated than you. They are from Zimbabwe.”
This has since sparked a diplomatic row. In reaction, Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo described Mbalula’s statement as disturbing.“Quite concerning, to say the least. Sadly, the unhelpful language used smacks of pub talk with all the tragic trappings of afrophobia!” Moyo wrote on his Twitter account.
Opposition People’s Democratic Party leader and former Finance minister Tendai Biti said the blame falls squarely on Mugabe’s shoulders and his Zanu PF government, which he accused of ruining the lives of Zimbabweans.
“It is Zanu and not SA that has created the mess in Zim. Collective anger must thus be directed at #Mugabe and the predatory State he has created,” Biti — a lawyer by profession — said on Twitter.
Zimbabwe Congress of Teachers Union Raymond Majongwe weighed in saying: “Comrade Fikile Mbalula. Hau baba. Ummm is that fact or fiction?”
Respected civil society leader Brian Kagoro said Mbalula’s statement were reckless.
“Every country in the world has criminal elements. Statistically, it is not correct that the majority of robbers in SA jails are Zimbabweans,” he said.
Another citizen Tamara Mutowa said: “Collective anger of any sensible Zimbabwean must be directed at @fikilembalula right now, ndookufarisa chaiko uku (that’s unacceptable)”.
Lawyer Munyaradzi Bwanya also took to Facebook saying Mbalula’s statements lacked objective interrogation.
“Once the tantrums are over, Mbalula’s position deserves objective interrogation. I am of the view that every Zimbabwean knows at least one person who is legally in SA and lawfully plying a trade in SA.
“Every Zimbabwean also knows at least one person who is in SA illegally and cannot account for their survival in that country; that relative or friend who cannot come home for funerals or Xmas because ‘mapepa haana kumira mushe (the papers are not in order) Is Mbalula the problem . . .?”
The South African government, through its Twitter account said it was wrong to assume the foreign nationals were responsible for the crimes in SA.
“The stereotype that foreign nationals perpetrate crime is not only wrong but also dangerous as it only inflames tensions,” the South African government wrote.