'Attacks were acts of crime'
President Thabo Mbeki said yesterday that the recent attacks on foreign nationals and some South Africans that left more than 60 people dead were not driven by xenophobia but by criminals who took advantage of the current economic situation in the country.
Speaking in Pretoria at a ceremony to honour the victims of the attacks, Mbeki said he had met many foreigners who were willing to declare their nationality because they had not experienced xenophobia in South Africa.
"The dark days of May which brought us here today were visited on our country by people who acted with criminal intent. What happened during these days was not inspired by a perverse nationalism, or extreme chauvinism, resulting in our communities violently expressing the hitherto unknown sentiment of mass and mindless hatred of foreigners - xenophobia," Mbeki told government officials, political, church and community leaders, as well as family members of the victims.
He said, like other countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world, South Africa was going through a difficult period of rising food and fuel prices, higher cost of borrowing, rising inflation and the general erosion of the living standards of especially the poor.
He said the criminal element took advantage of this situation to attack foreign nationals and some South Africans whom they saw as enjoying a better economic life.
"Those who have eyes to see will have seen that much of the violence we have experienced was targeted at the immigrants who had property to loot. Those who have eyes will have seen that the majority of immigrants who live in conditions of poverty as do many of our people were not attacked."
Mbeki said all South Africans should work together to oppose the acts of those who want to exploit the situation by attacking foreign nationals "falsely blaming them for our woes, seeking to use their vulnerability to loot their possessions for personal gain, as happened during the dark days of May".
He said South Africans were committed to the spirit of Pan-Africanism espoused by "our noble forebears - Tiyo Soga, JG Xaba, Pixley ka Seme and the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for our liberation and will continue, as Africans, to be our brothers and our sisters' keepers".
"On behalf of our people and government, I humbly convey to our people, our foreign guests, all Africa and peoples of the world, our apology 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."