Address by the President of the United Democratic Movement to the Twelve Apostles Church re Africa Day; addressing xenophobia, calling for independent commission of inquiry at Botshabelo, Bloemfontein (25 May 2008)

Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to thank the President of the Twelve Apostles Church, Bishop Nongqunga, for inviting me to share a few words with you and also to attend the service.

Indeed it is pleasing to be here once more, and speak with the thousands of congregants of this church. You are meeting here, coming from all corners of Southern Africa, to reflect on the progress and problems that you encounter as demanded by your convictions and your consciences. Whilst we all pray to Almighty God and ask for his assistance to guide us, there are those people who have been selected to lead us hear on Earth. I refer to government leaders, church leaders, business leaders and so on. These leaders are the ones who are expected to provide food security, security against crime and also shelter. It is therefore important that the religions of Southern Africa must constantly monitor these leaders and political parties on whether they are doing their work on behalf of the voters.

One thing we can never deny is the role played by religious leaders which led to our emancipation in 1994. However, immediately after that watershed moment in our history, the political leaders immediately shunned the religious leaders and disowned their role, under the pretext that they had now been elected democratically to lead the country.

Indeed, when leaders like Bishop Tutu, pointed out that corruption was a threat, or that the gap between the rich and poor was widening, they were called names and vilified. Yet these were religious leaders who sacrificed much of their lives to oppose Apartheid and who played a major role in travelling the world to convince other nations of the evils of Apartheid.

Here in Africa a nation will not survive if it does not stand on three pillars; namely: an elected government, religious groups and traditional leadership. What is needed is simply for the government of the day to accept that South Africa was not freed merely by one political party, but also because of pressure applied by civil society, including the religious groups. That reality must be reflected in our policies. We must work in unity to ensure that our countries in Southern Africa prosper.

In this country of ours, there have been many pieces of legislation enacted, which afterwards has led to church leaders confronting us regarding the moral basis for these laws. The common refrain has been that Government has failed to consult before enacting certain laws. This is a complaint that is echoed by traditional leaders and ordinary citizens. It demonstrates to what extent the new Government after 1994 insulated itself from the other sectors of society.

It was for these reasons, amongst others, in the past two year's State of the Nation debates in the Parliament, that I called for the holding of a National Convention. Such a Convention or Indaba would allow all role-players in society to discuss the burning issues facing the nation and to determine whether we are still heading in the right direction.

On both occasions President Mbeki agreed with me in Parliament, and Madam Speaker was even asked to pursue the matter, but it looks like her heart isn't in it.

As early as last year I proposed that the main objectives of such a Convention will be to look at: social cohesion, economic policies, poverty, crime, lack of service delivery as well as issues of racism, ethnicity and xenophobia.

This year I even suggested that Parliament could ask that such a National Convention should be facilitated by the Human Rights Commission.

It is unfortunate that today, as we celebrate Africa Day, there has been widespread coverage of incidents of apparent xenophobia and violence in our country. Perhaps had we moved with speed with holding such a National Convention, as early as last year on these topical issues mentioned earlier, we would've avoided what we see today. Because the negative signs were already there 3 or more years ago about how some South Africans treat our brothers and sisters from other parts of the continent.

I take note that our clarion call last week for President Mbeki to deploy the army to assist the police in quelling this violence, and for him to address the nation, has been heeded. We thank him for that.

Now the phase to analyse these attacks on our brothers and sisters from the rest of the continent, should commence. The key here would be to remove any kind of suspicion that this thing was unleashed deliberately and orchestrated by whoever. We need to appoint a commission of inquiry and be transparent about it, as opposed to leaving it to a group of ministers and technocrats. Those ministers are already telling us there is a 'third force'. Let them bring that evidence to the commission. Such an inquiry should also include the other acts of violence we've seen in the past twelve months where people have been barricading townships and roads, killing councillors and burning their homes. We need to establish whether there is a link between those incidents and the latest ones.

Many people who were affected have left the country, it would be good for such an inquiry to visit Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and others to gather evidence and testimony from those people who were harassed and attacked. I have no doubt in my mind that if we follow that route, we will reclaim the ground we lost on the Continent and internationally and prove to everybody that the majority of people in this country are entirely opposed to this kind of barbarity.

Finally we wish the Presiding Bishop, his colleagues and all the congregants from Southern Africa well. May you continue, as you have been doing for years, to be a religious group that embraces people from all over Southern Africa, and that you will provide all of us with guidance regarding unity and tolerance.

I thank you.

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