THIS is the man whose campaign ignited the latest xenophobic attacks on foreigners in South Africa.
Zweli Ndaba leads a group called the Sisonke People’s Forum.
Ndaba, according to the Mail and Guardian of South Africa, mobilized hostel residents in Johannesburg and the All Truck Drivers Foundation to organize a national shutdown.
His resort to the mobilization followed the alleged failure of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba, Gauteng Premier David Makhura, the national and provincial police and other government departments to grant him audience when he wanted to make them act on rising crime levels, unemployment, the housing shortage and the proliferation of drugs in Gauteng.
That shutdown was scheduled for Monday September 2.
The newspaper said: “Ndaba created and circulated the flyer that called for the shutdown. The flyer reads: ‘Sisonke People’s Forum … invite[s] all the residents of this country … to come together as South Africans with one voice of ENOUGH IS ENOUGH, ON SELLING OF DRUGS, ON PROPERTY THEFT, AND ON OUR WORK TAKEN BY FOREIGN NATIONALS.’”
Many livelihoods have been destroyed in the violence and many victims will bear the scars for life.
Over a hundred Nigerians have been forced back home by the attacks and many more are waiting to be evacuated.
He claims it was never meant to be xenophobic.
“Me being angry, I think no one is happy about seeing a South African person smoking drugs, sleeping under a bridge, not working,” he said.
“What I believe is the people of South Africa, they showed their anger. We’ve been knocking on the doors of the government. We went twice to the office of Premier Makhura and they were just laughing at us. I personally took a phone and phoned the [Police] Minister Bheki Cele. He wasn’t answering his phone. I invited the police commissioner of Gauteng, Mr [Elias] Mawela, to a public meeting. He never even bothered to reply to the email.”
Ndaba does not believe the sentiments in his pamphlet were xenophobic.
He also argues that he never called for violence against anyone.
Instead, he blamed government officials for the violence, saying if they had met the forum, the violence could have been prevented.
“When they [politicians] say we need to live in harmony, what is the harmony they talk about? Because we are seeing a lot of countries just bunching into South Africa, sharing just that piece of the bread that South Africa has. Maybe the government officials, they know their kids are well, living in Europe, and because of them they are just getting a lot of money at the end of the month,” he says, folding his arms.
“If ever they are serious about this issue, we can even show them schools. The kids are not problematic. The only thing that is problematic is drugs and these foreign nationals pushing drugs to our nation.”
Vusumuzi Sibanda, the chairperson of the African Diaspora Forum, said his organisation handed over this and other flyers containing xenophobic messages to the police days before violence broke out, but no action was taken.
The mayor’s office confirmed receipt of two letters from Ndaba and the Sisonke People’s Forum, in which concerns about drugs and unemployment in the city were raised.
A source in the office was quoted as saying “owing to the nature of the issues he (Ndaba) sought to discuss and keeping in mind the need to secure a successful resolution thereof, a decision was taken to refer him to the SAPS [South African Police Service] and the department of home affairs, as these issues fell within the ambit of the two departments. Mr Ndaba was duly informed of this decision.”
Mawela’s spokesperson, Brigadier Mathapelo Peters, dismissed his accusations that the police did not want to meet him as “very untrue and unfortunate.”
Makhura’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mhaga, was unable to confirm whether the premier’s office had received any requests for a meeting.