Johannesburg — THE latest alleged xenophobic utterances by Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, against foreign nationals purportedly committing crime and owning houses or operating small business in local townships has stirred a hornet's nest among entrepreneurs, activists and migrant organisations.
It is the latest in a series of controversial remarks by Mashaba on migration since he was elected to the helm of the city in 2016.
South African-based Zimbabwean businessman, Mike Mawere, criticized the businessman-turned-mayor for his latest comments.
"One thing the mayor must know is that no foreigner comes to this country carrying a spaza shop or a building," Mawere said.
He argued the small businesses, also known as spaza shops, and Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses were legally rented out to foreigners in order to generate revenue for locals that were mostly unemployed.
"A majority South Africans daily struggle with the rising cost of living. Some are single parents while others are aged and without any source of livelihood hence resorting to renting out their RDPs or spaza shops to foreigners," Mawere argued.
He said Mashaba's stance towards foreigners' ownership of shops or RDP houses in townships was xenophobic.
Mashaba recently tweeted, "The reality is that not all people coming into our country are victims. Some come with the intention to break our laws, knowing the shortcoming of our justice system. What is scary about this Xenophobia campaign, is that some in the media have openly declared to wage war against my pleas to have our borders protected."
"No one ever said foreign national should not own or run shops in our city. What I am expressing is that we need to unapologetically promote that our local people also run businesses in their communities as well," Mashaba's tweet read.
Dr Vusumuzi Sibanda, African Diaspora Forum (ADF) Chairman, accused the mayor of adopting a stance similar to United States (US) President, Donald Trump on migrants.
"Mayor Mashaba is xenophobic. Those utterances clearly show that his claim that he was concerned about illegal immigrants is just a smoke screen. Clearly, he has deep hatred for migrants, yet the city that he presides over is a city built and sustain (ed) by migrants," Sibanda argued.
He accused Mashaba of targeting mostly black foreign nationals mostly in poor communities.
"He has never walked in Sandton asking (white) people for papers or in Chinese communities. He targets black Africans. He is a man who resents his own kind. He probably is a white man in a black skin," Sibanda charged.
The ADF chairman suggested xenophobia was flaring in South Africa because perpetrators, unlike racists, were not prosecuted.
Amir Sheik, Chairman of Somalians in South Africa, attributed Mashaba's sentiments to a ploy to retain the mayoral post.
"Unfortunately, he (Mashaba) is using migrants as trump card to win sympathy from voters," Sheik argued.
In a separate interview, Zimbabwe Diaspora Development Chamber (ZDDC) chairman, Luke Zunga, accused Mashaba of political grandstanding.
"This is cheap politicking! Mashaba is playing to problem of poverty," Zunga said.
Zunga, an economist, argued such businesses run by foreign nationals counted as foreign direct investment (FDI).
"South Africa, as with other African countries, needs to increase production which is manufacturing. That is the area immigrants should focus on and work with SA (South African) citizens. The scope is big rather than just trading," Zunga added.
Activist Ngqabutho Mabhena also accused Mashaba of xenophobia, arguing he was using this as a tactic to retain power for his Democratic Alliance (DA) in Johannesburg.
"He is a dangerous man to the City of Johannesburg. We will continue working with progressive forces in building social cohesion in communities," Mabhena said.
The mayor also received some backlash from social media.
Phill Mfunda, reacting to one of Mashaba's tweets, said foreign nationals such as Pakistanis were not breaking the law by opening shops but were exploiting opportunities in the informal sector.
"Why can't we just give them (foreigners) competition than hatred?" he asked Mashaba.
Other African immigrants drawn from Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Ghana, Ethiopia and Zambia roundly condemned Mashaba's hatred of fellow Africans.