The doublespeak reassurances of the Zulu king haven’t eased xenophobic tensions in South Africa

Follow the King’s way
Follow the King’s way
Image: AP Photo
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Tomorrow will be one month since King Goodwill Zwelithini–South Africa’s Zulu monarch–made utterances that many claim sparked the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa. In a translated audio clip by South Africa’s eNews Africa Channel , from isiZulu to English, the king is reported to have said: “We ask that immigrants must take their bags and go where they come from.”

After calls from the public to clarify his statement, King Goodwill Zwelithini took the stadium yesterday at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban, and addressed a crowd of more than 10 000 people.

Offering introductory remarks before the King’s speech, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a senior South African opposition politician related to the King, laid the tone for the affair.

Buthelezi said: “ Regardless of how one interprets what His Majesty said, one thing is clear. He never decreed violence, mayhem, looting, murder or arson. Our King would by no means be retracting his words to stand before our nation and order that the violence stop.”

As South Africa has witnessed the displacement and violent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals, many continue to ask if the King’s statement incited the violence which has left seven dead.

What the King says he said

Addressing the crowd, King Goodwill Zwelithini maintains that at no point did he ever incite xenophobic violence.

“The people who listened to my speech at Pongola have not killed anyone, or committed any crimes. What has been said about me is not true. I need to clarify what I said, because the media has misrepresented me” said Zwelithini.

Zwelithini went to explain that the speech he gave a month ago was meant to address the socio-economic issues facing the country, particularly crime. He reiterated that his comments were directed at raising concerns about “people who come to South Africa to commit crimes.”

“Instead, the nation has been told that I have said otherwise. This is funny” he said.

The bone of contention remains, why did he call for foreigners to “pack their bags and go home”? His speech yesterday was thin on this.

He instead chose to comment on the media coverage of his statement, and how he hopes South Africa’s media is also open to investigation by South Africa’s Human Rights Commission – for misrepresenting his comments – since he haid spoke in isiZulu.

And in a classic moment of Orwellian doublespeak the King had an interesting counterargument to those that said he had been behind the attacks on foreigners with his first speech.

“If I indeed had called for violence, then this country would burn to ashes” he said. Some people in the crowd proceeded to cheer.

This moment in the King’s speech, was a tacit admission: that as a traditional leader in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province – home to 10 million people – his voice has sway and influence.

And what he chooses to say, like calling for foreigners to go home, can certainly have disastrous consequences.