South African High Commissioner to Malawi Cassandra Mbuyane-Mokone has said she understands and respects Malawians’ anger and disappointment over the xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in her country.
But she has pleaded with Malawians to take solace in the apology, shock and condemnation expressed by South Africa President Jacob Zuma and his government over the attacks, whose perpetrators are being arrested and will be tried and punished for their criminal activities.
The envoy expressed the sentiments in an exclusive interview in Lilongwe on Thursday after some parliamentarians and civil society organisations (CSOs) presented petitions to her on separate occasions during the past eight days in the capital city.
The CSO’s protest on Wednesday involved more than 1 000 banner-wielding people who demonstrated peacefully, through a charted route, before the petition was presented at her High Commission.
The protests culminated in ‘Black Friday’ national boycott yesterday that led to the closure of South African mega retail shops—Game Stores, Shoprite and Pep Stores.
“It would… be ironic and, indeed, hypocritical if I did not respect the right of Malawians in Malawi to protest, demonstrate, gather and petition,” stated Mbuyane-Mokone, pointing out that her government allows her citizens to protest in similar peaceful ways over some contentious issues.
Stressed the envoy: “At the highest level of the South African government, apologies have been issued and this is precisely what I feel, too. On behalf of the Republic of South Africa, I have registered extensive heartfelt condemnation [of the attacks] to those I have engaged with since the onset of the attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa.”
She described the attacks on foreign nationals, as “a criminal offence” that will not be tolerated in her country which upholds democracy and the rule of law.
“No amount of frustration or anger can ever justify the attacks on foreign nationals, the looting of their shops and their displacement,” the High Commissioner stated.
She pointed out that most South Africans are angered and shocked by the few perpetrators whose violent actions run counter to the cherished harmonious relations South Africa has built with its neighbours for decades.
Stated Mbuyane-Mokone: “We condemn the violence in the strongest possible terms. The attacks violate all the values that the South African Constitution embodies, especially the respect for human life, human rights, human dignity and Ubuntu (a virtue of respecting and valuing fellow human beings)
“We have said that as a government and a people, we will not allow a handful of detractors in our country to hijack the gains we have registered in the last 21 years,” Mbuyane-Mokone said.
“Peace-loving South Africans who value the lives and peoples of all descent are acting together to demonstrate who and what we are as people and that our firm collective commitment remains a subscription to the values of Ubuntu.”
She, acknowledged that the attacks stem from some of the challenges her government faces in addressing unemployment and social service delivery.
But she stressed that the challenges do not diminish her government’s commitment to protect all people who find their way in South Africa in search of better lives, adding that solutions can be found through constructive engagement and by working together.
The high commissioner said her government values its special ties with Malawi and hopes healing will take root soon, especially if leaders and all nationals act and discuss issues constructively.
“The consistent feedback that we receive [from Pretoria] is that we must continue to engage with our Malawian brothers and sisters because Malawi and South Africa share more than just bilateral relations –we have cultural, traditional and historical links and, even further, we enjoy good relations,” she added.