Business Day, 4 July 2008

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President Thabo Mbeki yesterday apologised, on behalf of South Africans, to the families of the victims of xenophobic violence who were killed or displaced during attacks in May at various places around the country. He was speaking during the national tribute to xenophobic victims in Pretoria yesterday, an event attended by cabinet ministers, religious organisations, humanitarian nongovernmental organisations and members of the public. The attacks on foreign nationals and some South Africans were described by speakers as “unfortunate” and “criminally motivated” and were strongly condemned. Mbeki said: “We have gathered here to convey to all Africans everywhere, to all African nations, severally and collectively, to our own people, and to the families of people who were murdered, our sincere condolences and our heartfelt apologies that Africans in our country committed unpardonable crimes against other Africans.” He pledged that the government would do everything necessary to ensure that Africans, regardless of their geographical origin, united and lived in peace. He said displaced people would be “expeditiously” reintegrated and assisted to “resume their normal lives”, while the perpetrators of the violence would face the full might of the law. “None in our society has any right to encourage or incite xenophobia by trying to explain naked criminal activity by cloaking it in the garb of xenophobia,” he said. “When I heard some accuse my people of xenophobia, of hatred of foreigners, I wondered what the accusers knew about my people, which I did not know ... and in spite of this reality, I will not hesitate to assert that my people are not diseased by the terrible affliction of xenophobia which has, in the past, led to the commission of the heinous crime of genocide.”