King Goodwill Zwelithini was harshly criticised by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for telling foreigners “to please go back to their countries” at the height of the wave of xenophobic violence last year.

The Zulu monarch had‚ by making multiple reference to foreign nationals as “criminals‚ which insinuates nefarious motive to their presence in South Africa”‚ attacked a vulnerability minority‚ but this did not “amount to hate speech”.

Neither could his comments be interpreted as “instigating violence” against migrants‚ the commission said.

The SAHRC on Friday released its findings on Friday‚ now that it had “finalised its much-anticipated report into the 31 complaints” against the Zulu monarch.

On Friday‚ SAHRC chairperson advocate Lawrence Mushwana highlighted the “status” of Zwelithini as an “important public figure”‚ and said the “influence” he held over his people was “evident” when “none of the people who spoke to the commission during field research in the area were prepared to have their identities disclosed”.

But‚ Mushwana said‚ while his comments were “hurtful and harmful”‚ they did not amount to hate speech‚ nor could they be seen as instigating violence against migrants.

Zwelithini made the comments at a moral regeneration event in Pongola‚ KwaZulu-Natal in the middle of March last year. Zwelithini initially denied saying “we are requesting those who come from outside to please go back to their countries”‚ until media replayed a recording of it‚ the the king defended his statement‚ saying the media “misinterpreted his words and distorts them to sell newspapers”.

The SAHRC investigation into the king followed a mission led by Mushwana‚ “to hotspots and temporary camps in KwaZulu-Natal to establish the nature and extent of the human rights challenges resultant from acts of violence directed at non-nationals”.