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South Africa: Xenophobia must fall!

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Amandla! editorial - Issue 39 - June 8, 2015

Brutal and alienated men have been terrorising people mostly of foreign origin. These are not gangs of criminals or the unemployed that are stereotyped as being behind the xenophobic violence but members of the South African Police Services, the National Defence Force and security officials of the Department of Home Affairs. Cynically these xenophobic actions are being carried out under the title of combating xenophobia. Operation Fiela (sweeping clean) was announced by President Zuma on Freedom Day as a means of stopping xenophobic attacks on “foreign nationals”. However, rather than focussing on dealing with and combating the deeply xenophobic sentiments that have grown within all sectors of South African society, Operation Fiela has focussed on arresting undocumented migrants. By this logic, it has to be assumed that a major part of government’s anti-xenophobia strategy is to rid the country of all “illegal” foreign nationals. No “foreign nationals” means no xenophobic violence.

Much of the ANC [1]’s critique of the Economic Freedom Fighters with their programme of radical economic policies consists of claims that they are demagogic populists. The SACP has been quick to label the EFF [2] as “neo-fascist”. But if anything has echoes of “national socialism” (Nazism), it is the sight of army and police raids targeting people just because they look different (often too dark), rounding them up, placing them in deportation camps and placing them on busses and trains for deportation. As has been systematically exposed by the Lawyers for Human Rights, this approach tramples on South Africa’s much-vaunted human rights laws.

Yet popular talk radio shows and the print media are overwhelmed by callers that defend the actions of the state and even argue for more drastic action to be taken against “foreigners” scapegoated for crime, prostitution and other social ills. This conveniently forgets that many of us living in most of what is now South Africa were originally foreigners. All this reflects the low levels of consciousness amongst South Africans, especially among the historically black and oppressed majority, who fail to realise that their socio-economic misery is a manifestation and product of the failures of the neoliberal and capitalist economic policies that continue to be championed by fading ANC-governing alliance.

The rise of xenophobia is deeply associated with the failure to transform this country from its apartheid past. Unemployment, poverty and inequality have not only survived the end of apartheid but have got worse as SA’s economy has been more integrated into the globalising world economy. The traditional organisations of our liberation struggle, especially the ANC, SACP and COSATU [3] have failed to lead a systematic struggle against a system that has reconstructed SA as one of the most unequal countries in the world. Outside of the alliance, the left has been too weak, divided and doctrinaire in its politics to constitute an alternative mass movement that can serve as a counter-power to multinational capital aligned with crony BEE [4] capital supported by a neoliberal state.

In the absence of a renewed and left politics rooted in the realities of a changing working class that is de-industrialised, made more precarious, unemployed and lumpen, the politics of scapegoating has taken root. Government expressed outrage at the attacks on so-called foreign nationals only after SA’s business interests in Africa were threatened by citizens from neighbouring countries and other African states, which had been angered by the callous brutality graphically captured in incidents like the killing of Mozambican Emmanuel Josias. SA’s immigration laws, the construction of Fortress SA, the failure of an inclusive discourse towards a post-apartheid project of nation building and most importantly the successive xenophobic statements of government officials have created an atmosphere conducive for xenophobia’s rising tide. They stretch from the time when Gatsha Buthelezi was SA’s first Minister of Home Affairs, to present-day utterances by Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, as well as the “call to action” of King Goodwill Zwelithini [5] that sparked the recent attacks on “foreign nationals”.

As our society becomes more intolerant, violent and fractured into countless “other” identities, including tribal ones, as the state becomes more dysfunctional, corrupt and authoritarian and as the project of building a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic SA further erodes, it becomes urgent for the progressive forces in our country to revitalise and unite a progressive movement. Such a movement must be capable of reimagining a liberated South Africa integral to a pan-Africanism that gives meaning to “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people”.

View online : Amandla!’s web site


[1ANC: African National Congress.

[2EFF: Economic Freedom Fighters.

[3COSATU: Congress of South African Trade Unions.

[4BEE: Black economic empowerment.

[5Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu (born 27 July 1948 at Nongoma) is the reigning King of the Zulu nation under the Traditional Leadership clause of South Africa’s republican constitution.

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