, DURBAN, South Africa, Apr 20 – Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini on Monday denied whipping up xenophobic hatred in South Africa after he was accused of triggering violence that has left at least seven people dead and forced thousands from their homes.
Zwelithini had made an angry speech last month blaming immigrants for rising crime and saying they must leave the country, in an outburst seen as inciting the spate of attacks on Zimbabweans, Somalis, Malawians and other foreigners.
Addressing a tribal gathering of several thousand Zulus in the port city of Durban the king insisted he had been misrepresented.
“My speech… was directed at the police, calling for stricter law enforcement, but that was never reported,” he said.
“The public was instead given another side of my speech, which has been twisted and misrepresented.
“This violence directed at our brothers and sisters is shameful.” READ: 30 detained as xenophobic attacks simmer in S. Africa
South African authorities have struggled to contain mobs in the economic capital Johannesburg and Durban who have been hunting down foreigners.
At least seven people have been killed and 307 suspects arrested in the worst ethnic violence since 2008, when 62 people died, mainly in Johannesburg’s townships.
Numbering 12 million people, the Zulus are the largest ethnic group in South Africa and Zwelithini, their traditional leader, retains great influence over his subjects.
Wearing a suit and tie rather than his royal animal-skin dress, he told the audience that he had never called on his people to attack foreigners.
“Had I said that, this country would be in ashes,” he said to loud cheers.
Yet many in the stadium, which was built for the 2010 football World Cup, booed when foreign dignitaries were introduced and during multi-faith prayers.
Violence has receded in recent days in Johannesburg and Durban, but the rioting and looting exposed deep tensions between South Africans and immigrants from across the continent.