Informed people live longer
28 July 2016 14:18 (South Africa)
South Africa

Loved by the miners, attacked by the ANC: who really is Liv Shange?

  • Rebecca Davis
    bec photo
    Rebecca Davis

    Rebecca Davis studied at Rhodes University and Oxford before working in lexicography at the Oxford English Dictionary. After deciding she’d rather make up words than define them, she returned to South Africa in 2011 to write for the Daily Maverick, which has been a magnificilious decision.  

  • South Africa
rebecca-on-Liv-Shange.jpg

Last month, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe blamed a diminutive Swedish woman for being “at the centre of anarchy in the platinum industry”. Liv Shange, 32, a leader of the Democratic Socialist Movement, has lived in South Africa since 2004 and is married to a local man. Now her immigration status appears to be under threat – and it’s hard not to suspect that Mantashe’s finger-pointing may play a part in that. REBECCA DAVIS tries to get some answers.

Blaming foreign nationals for stoking unrest in South Africa’s mining sector appears to have become a favoured tactic of the ANC lately. President Jacob Zuma recently hit out at “shadowy international elements and movements” for stirring up trouble on the platinum mines. Mid-June, Mantashe told an audience in Sandton that events like Marikana were the result of “anarchy, anarchy, anarchy, driven by people who are from far away…Sweden, Irish”.

The Irish element fingered by Mantashe was likely a reference to Irish Socialist Party MP Joe Higgins, South African labour analyst Terry Bell suggested last month. Higgins has long had ties to South Africa’s labour movement, and was present earlier this year when the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) was launched.

When the Sunday Independent called up Mantashe two weeks after his Sandton remarks for clarification, he doesn’t seem to have pursued the Irish angle any further. But he was still dead-set on Swede-blaming: “The reality is that it is a Swedish citizen who is at the centre of anarchy in the platinum belt,” Mantashe insisted to the newspaper. “I did not suck it out of my thumb.”

The Swedish citizen in question is Liv Shange, who captured some media attention around the time of Marikana due to the fact that she stuck out like a sore thumb: it is not every day that you see a small blonde woman address crowds of striking miners in fluent Zulu. Terry Bell suggests that it was largely this incongruity that won her scrutiny: “Her gender and complexion made her more newsworthy than other socialists who were – and remain – more active among miners, especially in the platinum sector,” he writes. “Mametlwe Sebei and Elias Juba, who are both more prominent in the Rustenburg area, have attracted little media attention.”

However it happened, Shange’s involvement clearly attracted the attention of ANC bigwigs, and they clearly weren’t best pleased. And in a coincidence that many of cynical minds would term suspicious, Shange now appears to be facing the threat of deportation. Currently visiting her parents in Sweden with her three children, Shange is having trouble receiving the requisite bureaucratic permission to return to South Africa in time for the start of the new school year.

This may be a case of Home Affairs bungling, although in recent years the department has radically stepped up its game from its former shambolic state. What seems to cast a different light on the matter, however, is the fact that comments made to the Sunday Independent by anonymous officials within police, intelligence and Home Affairs suggested a targeted probing of Shange.

The Swedish national told the Daily Maverick on Monday that she met her future husband, Xolani Shange, in Belgium in 2002. “We were both attending the world congress of the Committee for a Workers’ International,” Shange said via email. She was a member of a Swedish socialist group at the time, while Xolani was attending the event as a delegate for South Africa’s Democratic Socialist Movement. “We kept in contact, I came to visit, and eventually decided to come and study in South Africa so that we could try out actually being together.”

Liv subsequently enrolled for a BA in Zulu and Economic History at the University of KwaZulu Natal in January 2004. By December that year, she was married to Xolani Shange, and thus entitled to a spousal visa, which she says she received. By the time she graduated from UKZN in 2007, she had already become active in South Africa’s socialist movement.

“I was active in Durban while I stayed there, for example in the Socialist Student Movement at UKZN, where we were fighting against financial exclusions, amongst other things,” says Shange. After graduating, she was elected on to the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM)’s executive committee: part of an international network of socialist groups which fight for “decent wages, jobs, education and public services”, but also “the overthrow of the capitalist system”, according to their website. It was the DSM, together with independent mineworkers’ strike committees, which provided the impetus to form WASP. “So I’m involved in WASP as a member of the DSM,” Shange explains.

Shange does not deny having played a part in the organising of mineworkers in Rustenburg last year, saying that she and other members of the DSM played the role of “unifier and coordinator”, linking up workers’ committees at different mining houses and bringing Rustenburg workers together with striking mineworkers in Gauteng and Limpopo. “We did not start the strikes, but I think we contributed towards harnessing the strength of the strike action by linking the workers together and coordinating the action,” Shange says.

It was during this time that Shange first heard the threat of being deported. “It happened during the strike that I was detained, completely unwarranted, by mine security and interrogated by police, who tried to intimidate me with talk of deportation and charging me with high treason,” says Shange. In previous years she had been able to leave and return to South Africa quite freely, but that all changed in June this year.

“When I left SA with my children on June 20, to visit family in Sweden, I was stopped by Home Affairs officials at OR Tambo, who said they would not even look at the papers I had with me from Home Affairs. All that mattered was that there was no valid permit stuck into my Swedish passport,” she says. The reasons for this she describes as a “long story of complications”: Shange was mugged in 2010, and her passport – with her spousal permit inside – was stolen. When she applied for a transfer of her spousal permit, Home Affairs informed her that there was no record of such a document existing, and that her continuing presence in South Africa was illegal. Her re-application for an extension of the permit was denied, she says, and she has heard nothing since from her appeal against this decision and re-lodging of the application.

“To my understanding that process is still pending, because I have not received any response, despite having lodged several inquiries,” Shange said. “It hasn’t been a problem leaving SA and coming back previously, despite those problems, until now. Of course this time my departure followed on weeks of the ANC and government more or less explicitly scapegoating the DSM and me in particular.”

The Daily Maverick asked Home Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa whether it was possible that political pressure was being brought to bear on the consideration of Shange’s visa application. Mamoepa responded in fluently vague bureaucratese: “Should it be found that an individual in the country without the necessary permits and in violation of provisions of the Immigration Act, the Home Affairs Inspectorate Unit will be expected to ensure full compliance with provisions of the law in general and the Immigration Act in particular,” he said.

The Sunday Independent reported that Swedish diplomats had protested against Mantashe’s comments, but Shange said that she had not appealed for any assistance thus far from the Swedish embassy. When the Daily Maverick contacted the Swedish embassy in Pretoria, we were politely requested to direct our inquiries to Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Instead, the Daily Maverick turned to someone with direct experience of the grey area around Home Affairs and politicking: immigration lawyer Gary Eisenberg, who represented Mangosuthu Buthelezi in 2011 when the IFP leader took to the courts to seek redress for the government’s snubbing of the Dalai Lama’s visa application.

“The Dalai Lama didn’t really know if he was Arthur or Martha in the sense of what the Minister [of Home Affairs] was actually doing,” Eisenberg said. “The one question that the counsel for the state could not answer was whether [the Dalai Lama’s visa was denied because] it was a legal situation, or purposeful obfuscation.”

Certain people may be denied permission to travel to, or live in, South Africa because they are “prohibited”, as specified by Section 29 of the Immigration Act. This would apply to someone who has been convicted for genocide, terrorism, human trafficking, and similarly serious crimes. Alternatively, the Minister of Home Affairs has the authority to declare an individual believed to be a danger to the country in some way an “undesirable person”, Eisenberg explains; but in order for this to happen, you have to receive a notification. “If you haven’t received that, you can’t be an undesirable person,” he says.

Even though neither of these scenarios would appear to apply to Shange, Eisenberg cautions against leaping to sinister conclusions in cases like Shange’s. “There may not be a conspiracy against her at all. It may well be down to an inefficiency of the department, which is routine these days,” he says. “Maybe the Department of Home Affairs has lost her application, maybe they just haven’t gotten around to it: I would call that administrative malaise.” It is also possible, Eisenberg says, however, that no decision has yet been made in Shange’s case but her application has been suspended pending her being declared undesirable.

“We won’t know whether the visa blocking is being done purposefully or due to administrative inefficiency until she hires a clinical lawyer to get to grips with the situation,” Eisenberg says. “She needs to brief an attorney and give the department notice to cough up that information.”

Whether the Home Affairs delays are benign or not, however, there’s still the matter of Mantashe considering Shange to be at the centre of anarchy in the platinum belt, which Shange terms “disgraceful”.

“My response is to challenge him to a public debate on what really drives this mis-labelled ‘anarchy’,” Shange says. “In my view it is the slave-like conditions mineworkers still work and live in, the NUM’s betrayal of its members, and the ANC government’s resort to drowning independent working class struggles in blood.” DM

Read more:

  • Gwede’s Swedish diplomatic row, on IOL
  • Standing up for Liv Shange, in TimesLive
  • Militant Tendency sends shivers through South Africa, in the New Statesman

Photo: Liv Shange with her three children, aged 8, 5 and 14.

  • Rebecca Davis
    bec photo
    Rebecca Davis

    Rebecca Davis studied at Rhodes University and Oxford before working in lexicography at the Oxford English Dictionary. After deciding she’d rather make up words than define them, she returned to South Africa in 2011 to write for the Daily Maverick, which has been a magnificilious decision.  

  • South Africa

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