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24 March 2017 10:06 (South Africa)
Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

Dear King Goodwill Zwelithini...Let’s talk frankly

  • Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
    OnkgeposteBW
    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is one of South Africa’s leading media and communications specialists, as well as a community activist and a business executive. He is currently the Chief Executive of Oresego Holdings an International Advisory Company. His most recent roles were Head of Communications for COPE [2008], Political Advisor to the COPE parliamentary Leader as well as a Corporate Affairs Executive at the JSE listed Altron. He is a member of the University of the Western Cape Council, where he is an appointee of the Minister of Higher Education after serving two terms on the council of the Northwest University. He is an Associate of the prestigious international Institute of Independent Business (IIB). He is a regular columnist for The Sunday Independent and Pretoria News. In 2011 he rejoined the ANC as an ordinary member. Tabane is a PHD Candidate in Media and Journalism Studies at WITS University.

Who can salute a king who lets down his subjects and neighbours – and even his own relatives and in-laws – through xenophobic outbursts? It is a betrayal of leadership.

It is not often that a king has to lie to save face, but I suppose there is a first time for everything. There must be a myth that most of us cannot make out Zulu, or are not bright enough to understand a perfectly straightforward Zulu phrase. I am saying this in a guarded way, given the incidents not so long ago involving you and your relative in the Zuma household, and certain statements about gays and lesbians. Despite a recording telling us exactly what you tried to deny. This is a shame.

What is more of a shame, however, is the fact that elders of our society, like you, Nkosi, need to be able to educate the young and the ignorant alike about the fact that people from other parts of the world are welcome here in our country. With their wisdom and experience, they should be able to educate others about what role foreigners played in hiding many of our comrades who skipped the country, and were themselves refugees in the heyday of Apartheid. There seems to be a general miseducation amongst our leaders on this score.

I am not sure what your excuse is, because the excuse of politicians would be the blind pursuit of votes and a fear of annoying voters who believe that foreigners are just here to take their jobs. Which is, of course, a myth half the time, because we are afflicted by the obvious ills of laziness and a culture of dependency on government, rather than a culture of waking up and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. The greatest sin most foreigners commit seems to be that of being hardworking.

So politicians don’t want to annoy those who clutch at these myths. How do you explain the widely reported sentiment by our Minister of Small Business Development that foreigners should share their trade secrets as a condition of living with us peacefully? Of course, this must be crazy fiction by a random journalist – the honourable minister could never have said such a thing. Because if she did say it, she has thankfully denied it. It would be ridiculous in the extreme, would it not?

You, on the other hand, have no excuse. It is public knowledge that one of your wives is a Swazi princess, and your family has very close and eternal ties with the AmaSwati. So I am not sure whether in your plea for foreigners to pack their bags and voetsek, you include your in-laws and wife. I hope this was not a case of your forgetting the nationality of your wife, or perhaps a veiled way of telling us that there is trouble in paradise?

You have absolutely no excuse as a king to incite violence against foreigners. I am saying this with all the respect I can muster for a king who is so unashamedly blessed with so much of the taxpayer’s cash, and counting. Leaders like you, Ndabezitha, have a responsibility to educate us, the lowly subjects, about how to conduct ourselves towards our fellow men, whatever their origins. These are not the days of Mfecane, where kings incited entire armies to go and commit mass murder in the name of expanding their kingdoms. As lavish as your kingdom’s luxuries are, I am not aware of a time machine existing anywhere in it, that may have transported you back to the Stone Age.

One of the things that our leaders have done, as a disservice to the nation on this matter, is to pretend there is no xenophobia when everyone can see it. The silliest refrain by politicians is that ‘these are just criminal acts’ and not xenophobia. For starters, this assumes that criminality and xenophobia are mutually exclusive. I am telling you, wena we Ndlovu, they are not. The mere call for foreigners to pack up their bags can easily be considered criminal, as it is both xenophobic and can result in bloodshed, especially when your subjects take you literally or take it as a call to arms, Nkosi. And so the omission by leaders, neglecting to call xenophobia by its name, is concerning.

I am pleased, though, that in the same week you made your misguided call, Umsholozi had a visitation by the Muse or the spirit of true leadership and condemned these acts in no uncertain terms. He moved away from his usual neutral tones and simply declared that no one, no matter how hard done by, had any right to attack foreign nationals. In the week that we celebrated his birthday and were reminded of his travels abroad and his runs across the continent – underground and otherwise – this was quite appropriate. Now that is true leadership: call things by their names and stop hiding behind Zulu phonetics, veiling unsavoury things in the hope that some of us will not understand. It is a crying shame what you did this week.

A son of the soil, Malusi Gigaba, stopped short of condemning you by name this week when he said that no one (even kings) had any right to declare anyone illegal or legal in the country other than Home Affairs. His young but affable spokesperson, Mayihlome Tshwete, was vocal in drawing a line in the sand, distancing himself firmly – no matter how indirectly – from what can only be termed reckless conduct on your part as king.

Ndabezitha, you have let the nation down. At a time when we need leaders to preach reconciliation, you have behaved as the worst tribalist we have to contend with. Yes, I know this is a harsh label, but if you call for other tribes to ‘pack and go’, I don’t know what else to call it. It would be curious to know whether the Inkatha leader, your relative, who used to be Home Affairs minister and who was known to have personally hired foreigners, would even dare take you on about this absurdity. I doubt it. I think he often reserves his outrage for the ANC. If it were an ANC-aligned traditional leader who uttered these words, we would be listening to one of his cantankerous outbursts. But as they say, blood is thicker than water. I expect no less. My brother has not made a habit of criticising me.

Wena we Zulu...I battle to salute you after this un-royal behaviour. You have betrayed the dignity of your high calling to lord over the people of the greatest of kings. You have betrayed the umbilical chord that binds all African people into a higher solidarity than mere accidental tribal origins. You have betrayed the leadership that is sorely lacking in our country and have joined those who have made a habit of denying the realities of xenophobia. In one fell swoop, you have betrayed those that kept our ancestors safe from the Apartheid regime, when they fled and lived in exile.

I battle to salute you, Ndabezitha. You have let your subjects down.

Yours frankly

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM

  • Onkgopotse JJ Tabane
    OnkgeposteBW
    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

    Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is one of South Africa’s leading media and communications specialists, as well as a community activist and a business executive. He is currently the Chief Executive of Oresego Holdings an International Advisory Company. His most recent roles were Head of Communications for COPE [2008], Political Advisor to the COPE parliamentary Leader as well as a Corporate Affairs Executive at the JSE listed Altron. He is a member of the University of the Western Cape Council, where he is an appointee of the Minister of Higher Education after serving two terms on the council of the Northwest University. He is an Associate of the prestigious international Institute of Independent Business (IIB). He is a regular columnist for The Sunday Independent and Pretoria News. In 2011 he rejoined the ANC as an ordinary member. Tabane is a PHD Candidate in Media and Journalism Studies at WITS University.

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