Socialist activist Liv Shange has been back in her home country of Sweden for almost a week, since being denied permanent residency in South Africa. Shange maintains that she is the victim of political tides which seek to bar her from continuing her work in South Africa – after high-profile ANC politicians publicly criticised her. Home Affairs contends that Shange simply went about applying for her residency the wrong way. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Swedish activist Liv Shange says the African National Congress (ANC) has sought to create a “myth” about her: “The illegitimate outsider who had come to subvert the poor South African workers”. It is due to the ANC’s mistrust of her activities in South Africa, Shange claims, that she has been denied permanent residency in the country.
Now back in Sweden, Shange told the Daily Maverick of her frustration at being unable to pursue her life in South Africa.
“I have lived nearly my whole adult life in South Africa, almost 12 years,” Shange said. “I have my stepdaughter here, my children’s father, extended family and friends. I have an important role to play in lots of people’s lives with my political work as well. But above all, the government should not be allowed to play games with mine and other people’s lives like this.”
The reason Shange believes she is the victim of a political “game” comes down to conflict with the ruling party which stretches back over three years. She came to prominence around the time of the 2012 platinum miners’ strike, where Shange acted as a liaison between workers’ committees at different mines. Addressing the miners in fluent Zulu, the young Swede became the object of some media fascination.
Shange went on to become instrumental in the formation of the Workers and Socialist Party, which failed to garner enough votes in the 2014 general elections to win a seat in Parliament.
Nonetheless, Shange’s activities did not go unnoticed by the powers-that-be. In 2013, Shange told the Daily Maverick that police had interrogated her and threatened her with deportation. ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe strongly insinuated that Shange was responsible for attempting to foment unrest in the labour sector, telling the Sunday Independent in June 2013.
“The reality is that it is a Swedish citizen who is at the centre of anarchy in the platinum belt.”
Around the same time, Shange experienced difficulties in re-entering South Africa after a holiday in Sweden. The situation was eventually resolved, after having been taken up by the media. In 2014, Shange was again pointed to by ANC figures as being responsible for the “destabilisation of the economy”. On an unofficial level, too, Shange says she has experienced harassment.
“On occasion there have also been people contacting me who have picked up the accusations against me and believe them: people who accuse me of being out to manipulate and benefit somehow from worker and community struggles,” Shange says. “That has been quite unpleasant.”
Now, Shange’s application for permanent residence has been rejected.
“Home Affairs says that my South African relative, my child, needs to ‘support me’ in various ways, including financially,” Shange says. “My South African children are seven and 10 years old, so this of course cannot happen. This is the bizarre application of a regulation that was reintroduced with the amendments that came into force last year.”
Shange says the Swedish embassy has not intervened in the matter, but she has been given administrative assistance with the implications of having to move back to Sweden in haste.
When contacted by the Daily Maverick, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ press officer Tobias Vestergren responded: “Swedish citizens who apply for a residence permit or a visa for South Africa do so within the South African regulatory framework and in dialogue with the South African authorities.”
Those authorities – in the form of Home Affairs – say it’s straightforward. There is no political conspiracy. Shange simply took the incorrect route in applying for her permanent residency, and was duly denied on her application’s merits.
“We’ve looked into the case following the reports that (Home Affairs) had been unfair to Ms Shange,” department spokesman Mayihlome Tshwete told the Daily Maverick.
“Our assessment found that she applied for the wrong visa. It clearly stated what the requirements are, and she didn’t meet those. There are other visas which would have worked in her favour.”
Shange could, for instance, have applied for a spousal visa while she was married to a South African citizen. This route, Tshwete suggests, would have been far more likely to meet with success.
So why didn’t she?
“Because my marriage had in the meantime ended,” Shange responds. She adds pointedly: “As marriages often do, unlike the bond between a mother and child.”
Tshwete is adamant: “No unfairness was applied to her, and there was no conspiracy. She applied for the wrong visa and Home Affairs responded in line with what the law dictates.” He adds that Shange is welcome to appeal the decision.
The ANC has similarly denied any political interference in Shange’s residency application – while simultaneously appearing to confirm that it suspects Shange of harbouring sinister intentions towards the country.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa was quoted by a Swedish newspaper this week as saying: “I believe she’s just bitter because her attempts to destabilise South Africa failed”.
As for Shange, she says that for the time being she will pursue her political goals in Sweden.
“I’m continuing to work with the Swedish sister party to the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp),” she says. “We are campaigning against labour broking, privatisation, against racism, for the unification of struggles and the building of a socialist mass alternative to the right wing ‘social democrat’ government, and many other issues that touch working class people in Sweden as well as elsewhere across the globe.”
Shange adds: “Of course I will also continue to follow and support the work of Wasp and struggles in South Africa.” DM
Photo: Liv Shange and one her children.
Loved by the miners, attacked by the ANC: Who really is Liv Shange? in the Daily Maverick Daily Maverick
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