Don’t say the word "xenophobia" (and blame Twitter, not Goodwill)

Rebecca Davis spoke to John Maytham from parliament. Davis was there to cover Zuma’s address on xenophobia. As she discovered the word itself was barely mentioned.

Davis and Maytham discussed the:

  • Pre-parliamentary shenanigans
  • Zuma’s address to the nation
  • The response

Maytham felt that Zuma’s speech was neither inspirational nor convincing.

I tend to agree it was lacking on the inspirational side. There really wasn’t a sense of real passion and urgency from the president.

Rebecca Davis

However Davis did say that she was expecting worse.

She referenced the statement released by the presidency last weekend, which put the blame on foreign nationals.

  • The presidency said they’d be beefing up security on the boarder
  • Foreign nationals should not indulge in crime

There was a clear message on that occasion that perhaps some of the suspicions towards foreigners were warranted.

Rebecca Davis

What is interesting is that the word "xenophobia" itself became the unspoken.

He (Jacob Zuma) acknowledged the concern of South Africans about foreign nationals. As usual, not a mention of the word xenophobia. The government prefers to talk about the ‘attacks on foreign nationals’ but it certainly is revealing that up till now we have not seen one statement from this government so far that has used the word xenophobia.

Rebecca Davis

In my memory, and I was making fairly extensive notes, he used the word xenophobia only once.

Johan Maytham

#blametwitterandfb

Here’s what JZ talked about:

  • He said the attacks violate respect for life, human dignity and Ubuntu. The country stands against racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism

  • He appealed to social media, namely Facebook and Twitter, to refrain from fanning the flames of violence

Here’s what JZ did not talk about:

  • He did not refer to King Goodwill Zwelithini’s statement, “We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries.”

  • He did not mention his own son, Edward Zuma, who said in reference to foreigners, “We are sitting on a ticking time bomb.”

  • He did not mention any other government leaders

I’d like to see some evidence that the people who are looting foreign owned shops and driving them away from their homes and into refugee camps and brandishing pangas are being persuaded to do so by their twitter timeline.

John Maytham

“ I’d like to see some evidence that the people who are looting foreign owned shops and driving them away from their homes and into refugee camps and brandishing pangas are being persuaded to do so by their twitter timeline.”

Davis also spoke about the timing and impact of the address. She noted that the president gave a longer portion of his speech in Zulu.

I’d like to see any evidence that those people are sitting at home and listening to Jacob Zuma give this appeal. A parliamentary address at midday is always going to be preaching to the choir. It’s hard to imagine people seeing that and putting down their looting implements.

Rebecca Davis

Davis agreed with John that a major flaw was Zuma’s unwillingness to criticize King Goodwill Zwelithini. He wasn’t the only one who refused to criticize the monarch.

We just saw Julius Malema from the EFF who gave a very, very hard speech criticizing a culture of violence which he said had been instigated by the ANC government under Zuma’s leadership. But he was at pains to state he did not want to be misinterpreted as criticizing Zwelithini.

Rebecca Davis

Davis spoke about Zwelithini’s power and authority, which Maytham grappled with.

It’s hard for someone like me with my middle class anti-monarchist sentiments to understand that. Particularly given the fact that Zwelithini hardly distinguished himself as a stalwart in the struggle against apartheid, he was utterly and completely complicit until the ANC came into power.

John Maytham

Maytham then turned the focus to the man who has subsequently announced that he has accepted the nomination to stand as the DA’s leader, Mmusi Maimane.

Political football

Maimane is a good speaker, he spoke somewhat more passionately than Zuma. He managed to get in a few digs at the current administration, unemployment and their inability to support small business. But he did say, which I think was the right approach, that we cannot turn xenophobia into political football.

Rebecca Davis

Therein lies the crux. Instead of parliamentarians putting their differences aside and focussing on this hugely significant issue, they used the platform for other disputes

In the pre-Zuma address today when parliament was quibbling for almost an hour over the rules of the house, over whether he would be answering the Nkandla question, I think the overwhelming thing was frustration. So I think Maimane did a good job there reminding everyone that this wasn’t the moment for political game playing.

Rebecca Davis

One can only watch this space and hope that the presidency will do more towards tackling xenophobia over and above cautioning tweeters. Considering the reluctance to mention the very name itself, perhaps we could change it to #NoZenInPhobia.

Listen to the audio for more detail.

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