Xenophobic attacks loom large at SADC summit

IMPORTANT INDABA: President Jacob Zuma at the opening session of the Extra-Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government in Harare, Zimbabwe, yesterday PHOTO: GCIS
IMPORTANT INDABA: President Jacob Zuma at the opening session of the Extra-Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government in Harare, Zimbabwe, yesterday PHOTO: GCIS

Harare - Attacks on foreign nationals in South Africa threatened to overshadow a regional summit in Zimbabwe when leaders gathered to promote industrial growth.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe has expressed "shock and disgust" at the xenophobic violence in Johannesburg and Durban in which at least seven people were killed.

But he avoided the issue in his opening address to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit, where President Jacob Zuma was among the delegates.

"Despite the rich endowment of our natural resources, about 70% of our people live below the poverty line," Mugabe said, calling for the region to develop its own industries rather than exporting raw materials.

"By exporting materials in their raw form, we can only earn marginal benefit," he said.

"Just as we were our own liberators from colonial bondage and oppression, we have to find the resources to free ourselves from economic bondage."

Thousands of immigrants in South Africa were displaced by the unrest earlier this month as local mobs targeted workers from countries such as Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

The presidents of those three countries were among the 10 heads of state at the one-day event in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.

Ahead of the meeting, Zimbabwe's presidential spokesman George Charamba said some heads of state might choose to address the attacks. "Whether people are going to take advantage and bring the matter up will be at the discretion of the heads of state."

The subject of the summit - industrialisation - could itself raise the issue of why so many citizens of neighbouring countries head for South Africa to find work.

Zuma, who condemned the attacks after an outcry at home and abroad, focused on the problem on Monday in a manner unlikely to have been well received in neighbouring capitals.

"We cannot shy away from discussing the reasons that forced migrants to flee to South Africa," he said. "All of us need to handle our citizens with care."

Mugabe, for example, has been blamed for a collapse in Zimbabwe's economy which has sent millions of his people to seek work in South Africa.

The Harare meeting is a follow-up to a summit in Victoria Falls last August which resolved to discourage the export of primary goods and develop industries in the region. Many member countries of SADC, which seeks to promote economic, political and security cooperation, are rich in minerals.

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