Zambia spreading lie that SA is xenophobic, says Cele
Minister hits back after Zambia's foreign minister voices fears election observers will be attacked
Diplomatic fallout is looming between SA and Zambia after police minister Bheki Cele accused that country’s foreign minister of spreading a narrative that South Africans are xenophobic.
This comes after a Southern African Develoment Community (SADC) election observer mission, headed by Zambian foreign minister Joseph Malanji, expressed fears that their observers may come under attack during the elections next week.
In response, Cele said Malanji was “forward”, and he “exaggerated” a xenophobic threat against foreign observers sent to monitor the elections.
This week, Southern African observers who are in SA to monitor next week’s vote said they wanted to seek assurances from the SA government that they would be protected against xenophobic attacks while doing their job.
Malanji said they would meet the police minister to get this assurance. But Cele told Times Select on Thursday: “I think that was an exaggerated statement. And it’s unfortunate.”
He said he did not meet the Zambian foreign minister as reported.
“They must not fan things that are not there,” Cele added.
He hinted that there may be a narrative perpetuated by Zambia that SA is a xenophobic country. He said the ambassador first went on television to suggest this and now the foreign minister was expressing fears.
“You can’t be a minister of another country calling a meeting on TV of the ministers in this country,” Cele said.
He said that possible xenophobic violence “has never even crossed anybody’s mind”, and that SA did not have a history of violence against election observers.
The SADC election mission consists of 48 members.
Cele’s comments come as international relations and co-operation minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the observer mission had nothing to be afraid of.
“We have raised our concern as South Africa. It’s kind of a two-way where there are genuine concerns from South Africans about things that are done by foreign nationals in the country, either legally or illegally,” Cele said of a previous meeting with ambassadors from African countries earlier in 2019.
The observer mission is expected to travel across the country to monitor whether the sixth democratic election is free and fair.
Cele conceded on Thursday that there were hot spots in KwaZulu-Natal and North West, saying 51,000 police officers had been deployed to ensure safety on election day.