South Africa

KZN XENOPHOBIA

MK veterans join up with truck drivers to force foreigners out of jobs

The All Truck Drivers Foundation and MK veterans march through Durban, demanding that no truck with a South African registration should be driven by a foreign national. (Photo: Nokulunga Majola)

Several coordinated anti-foreigner protests have taken place recently in eThekwini, and despite a history of xenophobic threats turning to violence, the provincial government has responded in a way that could be perceived as tepid and placatory.

Additional reporting by Lwazi Hlangu 

The rhetoric surrounding the latest xenophobic flare-ups in KwaZulu-Natal remains the same as ever: Foreign nationals are criminals, drug dealers and murderers who should not be allowed to do the jobs that can be done by South Africans, or run businesses that undercut (or, it seems, outperform) locals. 

This view, coupled with lawlessness and a government unwilling to take a consistently hard line against those leading the anti-foreigner campaign (due to their affiliation with the ANC), has grown louder across South Africa in the past weeks, and has led to nasty outbursts in KwaZulu-Natal.  

The province has experienced several sporadic xenophobic incidents since the well documented, violent clashes of April 2015. 

In the last three weeks, several coordinated anti-foreigner protests have taken place in eThekwini, and despite a history of xenophobic threats turning to violence, the provincial government has responded in a way that could be perceived as tepid and placatory. 

This month, there have been two marches through the Durban CBD (the latest on Monday), where hundreds of angry uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) veterans, unemployed graduates, truck drivers and others pounded the pavements from the city hall, hoping to make their way to the notorious Point area while demanding that foreign business owners, traders and truck drivers close shop and leave the country. 

The Point has been a sweet spot for anti-foreign protesters for years. The area has a large population of documented and undocumented foreigners and is known to be home to all of the vices the metro has on offer. It is also known for ineffectual policing.  Residents have told Daily Maverick that some cops on the Point beat openly accept bribes from foreigners and locals who deal in drugs and other illicit goods. 

Nevertheless, Monday’s march was relatively subdued compared with others, with only five public violence arrests taking place. MK veterans were allegedly shot with rubber bullets when they tried to enter the Point. 

The foreign traders at the market – many of whom employ locals and say they are legally renting their allotted area from the city – subsequently vacated their shops. They told Daily Maverick that they had no immediate plans to return because it was simply too dangerous. 

The march scuppered a scheduled meeting between the Africa Solidarity Network, which represents foreign nationals, and eThekwini’s mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda, which was set to address the anti-foreigner sentiment in the city. Daily Maverick understands the meeting was postponed for “security reasons”. 

The first march this month resulted in several foreign-owned shops in the CBD being looted and their owners threatened. During the same march, foreign traders – all claiming to be in the country legally – were forced from their small businesses in the popular Church Walk market, situated next to the Workshop shopping centre, and in spitting distance of the city hall. 

The foreign traders at the market – many of whom employ locals and say they are legally renting their allotted area from the city – subsequently vacated their shops. They told Daily Maverick that they had no immediate plans to return because it was simply too dangerous. 

“There are still MK veterans [patrolling] the flea market area. They are harassing and robbing any person that passes through the area that looks like a foreigner and it seems like the government are really not concerned,” Smith Enabebholo, who runs the market, told Daily Maverick on Wednesday. 

The ANC-run eThekwini Metro has been conspicuously quiet following Monday’s march, making no statement about how angry mobs marching through the city hurling xenophobic slurs, committing acts of public violence and threatening foreigners could be a direct assault on the metro’s economy and desperate need for investment.  

Nevertheless, Zibuse Cele, the “convener” of the MKMVA in eThekwini, told Daily Maverick that the veterans had formed a “joint venture” with the All Truck Drivers’ Forum and Allied South Africa (ATDF) to confront the “problem” of foreign nationals being preferred over locals when it came to employment.  

He said locals were tired of “all the crime [foreigners] do and the fact they sell drugs in front of our children…” 

Just hours before Monday’s march to the city hall, the veterans and the ATDF marched to Transnet, in the harbour area, and demanded the following:

“We need no South African registration truck to be driven by foreign nationals, loading or offloading in the harbour. The foreign registration truck be driven by foreign truck driver as it happens to other countries like Namibia [sic].” 

The demands were to be put in place by December 1, according to ATDF’s memorandum, which ended with: “WE SAY NO TO TRANSFER OF POVERTY IN OUR COUNTRY. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!!!!!” 

In the past, however, dozens of trucks have been torched, vandalised and looted along the N3, which connects Durban’s port to Johannesburg and other southern African trading partners – a critical link for KwaZulu-Natal and the country. 

ATDF’s chairperson, Siyabonga Dlamini, and its secretary, Sifiso Nyathi, have said publicly that they oppose violence within their organisation and during marches, and have blamed any “incidents” on non-affiliates. 

Nyathi told Daily Maverick that ATDF was “not xenophobic”. 

“We only want what is rightfully ours. Government keeps on talking and making promises – but nothing is changing.” 

He said that while the ATDF and MKVA had marched together, each group had its own issues. The ATDF had no political affiliation, he added. 

Some media houses have reported numerous attacks on trucks in KwaZulu-Natal in the past week, but provincial and national police have denied this. Most of the attacks have thus far taken place in Gauteng and the Free State. 

According to police, only one incident was reported in KwaZulu-Natal, and this was of an attempted attack on a truck near the Mariannhill toll plaza, in the Pinetown area, which was thwarted. 

In the past, however, dozens of trucks have been torched, vandalised and looted along the N3, which connects Durban’s port to Johannesburg and other southern African trading partners – a critical link for KwaZulu-Natal and the country. 

Cele has previously told this journalist that foreigner traders at the Church Walk market needed to be expelled to make way for “locals”, who should sell “traditional” goods. 

But on Wednesday, Cele, who tends to be slightly more measured over the phone, said that only “undocumented” foreigners should leave the province. “I caught one there by the Workshop [when we were marching] and his documents expired in 2019. He must leave. [Authorities] are not checking these things,” he said.

At Monday’s march, he told Daily Maverick: “We have evidence [that foreigners sell drugs] from the townships that we live in, like in KwaMashu they ended up killing a child. That’s why we’re angry, because there’s a dead child in KwaMashu because of them. They shot the child.” 

The incident he was referring to took place on Sunday evening in KwaMashu’s B Section, when a 24-year-old foreign shop owner shot into a crowd of protesters from KwaMashu hostel, who were allegedly looting shops and threatening foreigners. 

Seventeen-year-old Xolani Sithole was shot dead in the fracas, having sustained a gunshot wound to the chest.  

Sithole’s death is sure to provide Cele and his followers with further reason to call for foreigners to be expelled, particularly because the gun used by the shop owner was, according to police, stolen during a housebreaking in a Durban suburb in 2014. 

In a press statement issued after Monday’s march, Premier Sihle Zikalala said that the provincial government was “committed to the transformation and stabilisation of the road freight and logistics industry, which is [a] critical sector of the provincial and national economy”. 

The foreign shop owner was subsequently charged with murder and possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition. Five of the protesters were arrested for public violence. 

KwaMashu and Umlazi were just some of the scenes of severe xenophobic clashes in 2015, which left hundreds of foreign nationals displaced. The Durban CBD was not left unscathed – running battles ensued between police and looters. Shops and vehicles were torched, foreigners assaulted, and their shops looted and vandalised. 

In 2017, violence flared again at KwaMashu hostel after foreigners were accused of “kidnapping and killing women and children”. 

It is the townships that bear the brunt of the violence, and random shootings from foreigners and locals – usually with unlicensed weapons – are not uncommon. This in turn leads to more anger, more retaliation and hastens flare-ups in other areas of the metro and province. 

According to Daniel Dunia, the executive director of the Africa Solidarity Network, it is unclear who shot Sithole during Sunday’s clashes in KwaMashu. 

He told Daily Maverick that “MK vets” were looting shops and demanding that foreigners leave when the young man was shot. “We are not sure who killed the boy,” he said, adding that shots were fired by “MK vets and police”. 

But Cele said the veterans played no part in Sunday’s march. “We weren’t there,” he told Daily Maverick. “Those were just other people who also have the same problems with [foreigners].” 

In a press statement issued after Monday’s march, Premier Sihle Zikalala said that the provincial government was “committed to the transformation and stabilisation of the road freight and logistics industry, which is [a] critical sector of the provincial and national economy”. 

He did not mention the MK veterans. 

“We will continue to engage all the relevant role players and work within the law to negotiate solutions meant to resolve current conflict, and in the long term stabilise the industry within the ambit of the country’s Constitution. We must, however, reiterate that we will not allow lawlessness to threaten our economy, more so as we emerge from the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“We thus call on those who have grievances to work with us and not to shut down our roads, torch trucks or even resort to attacking truck drivers as has happened before. Where these violations take place we expect the justice crime prevention and security cluster of government to respond decisively to maintain peace and order by dealing with criminality and unlawful activities in the province.” 

When asked if Zikalala’s response to the blatant threats against foreigners made by the protests was not far too soft, given the province’s deadly xenophobic flare-ups in the past, KZN government spokesperson Lennox Mabaso said: “In a conflict situation a responsible government must intervene and engage the warring factions as part of efforts to find a permanent solution.  Getting all sides of the story and mediating is important. 

“Government believes all challenges, no matter how intractable they seem, can be resolved through engagements and negotiations. Government is clear that criminal conduct is not negotiated, but concerns must be attended to. I think it’s your interpretation that we are soft.” DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

No Comments, yet