Addressing Pongolo community members during a moral regeneration event last Friday, Zwelithini accused government of failing to protect locals from the “influx of foreign nationals”.
“When you walk in the street you cannot recognise a shop that you used to know because it has been taken over by foreigners, who then mess it up by hanging amanikiniki (rags),” he said.
“Most government leaders do not want to speak out on this matter because they are scared of losing votes. As the King of the Zulu nation, I cannot tolerate a situation where we are being led by leaders with no views whatsoever.
“We are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries. The fact that there were countries that played a role in the country’s struggle for liberation should not be used as an excuse to create a situation where foreigners are allowed to inconvenience locals.
“I know you were in their countries during the struggle for liberation. But the fact of the matter is you did not set up businesses in their countries.”
Zimbabwe Exiles forum director, who is also a South African based human rights lawyer, Gabriel Shumba described remarks by King Zwelithini as reckless and uncalled for.
“Politicians are the ones who cause xenophobic attacks because we will not be surprised if tomorrow more Zimbabweans are hanged or killed because of such reckless talk. Such sentiments are coming at a time when foreigners are being attacked here in South Africa and this can only fuel more attacks,” said Shumba.
He said South Africans faced isolation and hatred by fellow Africans due to xenophobic attacks and ill-treatment of foreigners.
“ This is exactly why South Africans will never be loved by Africans because when they were fighting apartheid Africa we stood by them but now they think the infrastructure which is there means they must kick out everybody who is a foregner,” said Shumba.
He said it was unfortunate that foreigners were blamed for all sorts of crimes in the neighbouring country.
Efforts to get a comment from Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi were fruitless as he was unreachable on his mobile phone.
Associations representing Somalis and DRC nationals also condemned Zwelithini for his statements.
Somali Association of South Africa (SASA) chairman Ismail Ahmed said the statements could spark violence that would cause irreparable damage to the relationship between South Africans and the rest of Africa.
Shako Kuminga, who represents the Congolese in Durban, said the king’s statement came while Congolese nationals were mourning deaths caused by a series of xenophobic attacks.
Remarks by King Zwelithini were made against the backdrop of rising tensions between foreign nationals and locals in the wake of recent xenophobic attacks in the country.
According to reports, renewed xenophobic attacks began in Soweto, Gauteng, in January and later spread to KwaZulu-Natal, where they have claimed three lives so far.
Xenophobic motivated attacks continue to rear their ugly head in South Africa and Zimbabweans, especially in Limpopo and Gauteng provinces have been on the receiving end.
Of late Zimbabweans living in areas in Vhembe district in Limpopo province have been the subject of ridicule and blame for crime with locals taking it upon themselves to “weed out” foreigners blaming them for “fuelling” crime in the area.
Last week, a Zimbabwean woman wrongly accused of killing a young boy, was lynched by an angry mob in a shanty town near the South African capital, Pretoria.
The woman was burnt alive while another man, also from Zimbabwe, managed to escape after police intervened, officials said on Tuesday.
The Zimbabwean pair had been accused of bewitching the boy. A probe later revealed that the boy had been electrocuted.
In May 2008, 62 foreigners in Alexandra Township in Johannesburg were brutally killed during xenophobic attacks and thousands were displaced.
Their homes were also destroyed and looted during the attacks, which subsequently spread to other parts of the country.
According to South African media reports, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has called for the deportation of foreigners in South Africa, saying it was unacceptable for South Africans to compete with people from other countries for the few economic opportunities available.