PRETORIA - After weeks of xenophobic violence in South Africa and multiple efforts to end it, South African President Jacob Zuma met with leaders of organizations representing foreigners at the Presidential Guest House in Pretoria on Friday. Zuma assured them his government is doing all it can to ensure the attacks stop and never happen again.
Emerging from a five-hour closed-door meeting, both President Zuma and the heads of groups representing foreign nationals described the meeting as the best move undertaken by the government so far in eradicating xenophobic violence.
Speaking to reporters, Zuma said foreign nationals are more than welcome in South Africa and no one has a right to attack them. He also announced that a special government committee has been established to give foreigners swift access to the government when they want to raise concerns.
"I think all of us, the consensus is that the majority of [in] this country are not xenophobic, but there are people at times criminals, who use the situation for their own ends and that therefore we need to work together because we certainly don’t want this to happen again," he stated.
Leaders of the foreign nationals' groups used the meeting to raise a number of concerns, ranging from problems in getting residence permits to a lack of punishment for those who commit the attacks.
Marc Gbaffou, chairman of the African Diaspora Forum, said the frank discussions they had with President Zuma made them believe that xenophobic attacks will soon be issues of the past. "With our president we can see that, this small group don’t have a place in the society. Government promised that they will work clockwise to put them where they belong," he explained.
Gbaffou said the groups also gave assurances they will do their best to ensure foreign nationals abide by South Africa's laws, so as not to generate resentment from locals, who sometimes accuse them of perpetrating crime.
Bishop Dulton Adams, chairman of the Migrants Community Board, used the occasion to make a plea to South African nationals.
"We want to call upon our brothers and sisters in South Africa; we don’t have to go through lengths of violence and looting,” Adams said. “We don’t have to go and kill each other. Let us work together and dialogue with each other."
President Zuma said he is confident the internal and external moves his government has taken to halt xenophobic violence will bear positive results.
On the regional front, South African officials have talked to African diplomats and told them the government has adopted a zero tolerance stance toward all forms of violence directed at foreign nationals.
Within the country, Zuma has directed his ministers to go into the restive communities and preach a message of peace and tolerance. Several marches and meetings against xenophobia have been held, rallying thousands of South Africans.
The government also has deployed the army to help the police patrol hotspots in Johannesburg and Durban.