Maverick Citizen


‘Clarion call’: Civil society rallies against xenophobia

‘Clarion call’: Civil society rallies against xenophobia
Community groups march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 8 March 2017 in protest against poverty and xenophobia. The march was organised by the Coalition of Civics Against Xenophobia. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)

While a campaign fighting for the rights of migrants got under way in Joburg’s CBD, Operation Dudula hit the streets in Hillbrow, with a call for foreign nationals to leave South Africa.

A newly formed group of activists and civil society organisations rallying against xenophobia has called on ordinary people to come together and fight against xenophobic attacks.   

Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia said in a statement on Friday evening that this was “a clarion call to all progressive individuals and organisations to stand in solidarity with migrants and echo the constitutional ideal that South Africa belongs to all who live in it”.

On Saturday, 19 February, Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia held a mass meeting at the Anglican The Virgin Mary Cathedral in Joburg’s CBD to discuss ways to combat the xenophobic sentiment that has taken hold around the country. 

On the same day, Operation Dudula marched in Hillbrow, calling for foreigners to leave South Africa.  Operation Dudula is led by Nhlanhla Lux, who last year defended Maponya Mall in Soweto during the July violence.

Fed-up SA citizens take to the streets, blaming foreigners for crime and the unemployment crisis

It was noted at the meeting that there were many who would have wanted to attend in person – particularly those living in the CBD – but might have stayed away as a result of the Operation Dudula march. 

A Zimbabwean woman told the meeting: “I have a small baby I had to leave [at home] but our comrades cannot be alone. I am Zimbabwean, we need all the migrants and leadership from various migrant community groupings. This is for all of us when we have sisters and brothers ready to stand up and fight for us; we should also find ourselves in the room.”

Attendees lamented the government’s lack of action to protect migrants in light of Operation Dudula’s posters threatening to “attack foreigners” and because it was imperative to stand in solidarity with migrants, particularly because African countries had supported South Africans during the liberation struggle.

They said there is a need to find out who is funding the movement, which they said is aimed at detablisising and turning people against each other.

Maverick Citizen posed the following questions to campaign organisers Trevor Ngwane and Dale McKinley:

What role would you say Home Affairs has had in stoking xenophobic tensions?

Ngwane: “Many Home Affairs officials are hostile to immigrants from north of the Limpopo, in particular the working class and the poor. They treat them with contempt and disdain. The worst part is that these officials frustrate applications for asylum, work permits and visas. The South African government has discriminatory and contradictory immigration policies which are inconsistently applied, such as the threat to revoke Zimbabwean special permits last year and which it now says it will terminate in December 2022, leaving hundreds of thousands of migrants without documents.”

McKinley: The role that Home Affairs has played is on numerous fronts –  first of all the breakdown of the whole immigration system; the criminalisation of immigrants; so many of the immigrants who are so called illegal are simply that because of Home Affairs’ incompetence; and inability to process people’s papers and getting them on time and also the corruption and mismanagement within Home Affairs makes that even worse. Home Affairs, essentially, is an inept, dysfunctional department when it comes to immigration of [Africans] in particular and those crossing our land borders; and it’s about trying to militarise or securitise that response, it’s about doing it properly, procedurally and getting it right.

Why do you think the response from the government and law enforcement is so subdued? The President didn’t even mention it in his State of the Nation Address

Ngwane: “The underlying cause is that the South African government is capitalist and its primary function is to facilitate profit-making by white monopoly capital and the aspirant black bourgeoisie. Sowing strife, division and disorganisation within the working-class movement is a primary goal of the capitalist ruling class the better to exploit, oppress and dominate us. Xenophobia is a direct attack on the unity of the working class; a key principle of working-class politics is international solidarity. Dividing workers born in South Africa from those born in Malawi, Mozambique and other African countries is a direct attack on the workers’ struggle. It is important to note that street violence related to xenophobia is only the tip of the iceberg.

McKinley: “You get one side of the ANC saying, ‘oh no, we’re not xenophobic, this is not xenophobia, we remember our liberation history’, and the other side that stokes those things both at the local, regional and then national levels. You have the same in the police and the police are notoriously biased in terms of immigrants. So, in many ways the inherent xenophobic tendencies within government and law enforcement only pour fuel on the fire… As far as the President is concerned, he’s approaching it the way he approaches many things, which is to try to sit somewhere in the middle and do very little. He’s trying to manage the factional, political battles in the ANC – he sees that as more important than actually dealing with governance issues and human rights issues… and then trying to basically conflate immigration with illegality, which is, of course, what Operation Dudula does, which is, ‘oh, it’s only illegal people we’re going after’, but the only reason most of those people are illegal is because they’ve been made so, not because they want to be, not because they want to crawl under the fences in Limpopo and the Kruger.”

Why do you think Nhlanhla Lux has gained such popularity and found resonance?

Ngwane: “Leaders like him are born of a political situation characterised by uncertainty, instability and insecurity for all classes. They thrive in these conditions primarily because the working-class movement is very weak. It is failing to provide a way out for ordinary working-class people who are suffering from economic deprivation. Everyday life is a crisis for the working class and the poor: jobs, houses, education, healthcare, transport, electricity, security, etc. There is a global, rolling capitalist crisis that has become worse with Covid-19. They call for unity of the oppressed but their strategies lead to divisions among the oppressed and exploited. They claim to fight against the social ills engendered by capitalism but they support capitalism. They say they feel the pain of the poor but hang out with the rich and powerful. They have a connection with the masses but their politics is a dead-end because it does not provide a lasting solution to the crisis. In the end, they become strike-breakers and enemies of the working-class movement. They become a violent third arm of the capitalist state. They become pawns of the capitalist class.”

McKinley: “Well, first of all I don’t think he has. He certainly has a degree of popularity, but popularity is not as some news media outlets seem to measure these days by presence on social media and how many people hook up on social media. That’s a very particular demographic, generally speaking, and in that case I think there is a large majority of people who don’t like what he’s doing, but they’re not the ones who get heard, they’re not the ones who get covered, so we have this discourse that says, ‘oh, he’s gaining massive popularity’. First of all, he gained his name because of the rioting, so he already had a platform, and just like the other demagogues and the populists, he taps into fear, division, desperation. And there’s many fearful, desperate people out there, particularly youth. So, just like the United States and Europe, what do you do? You blame the immigrants, you don’t try to deal with your own problems and government and as a result you can gain degrees of popularity because you’re taking advantage of all those things, so I think we need to put that into perspective.”

The Kopanang Africa Against Xenophobia campaign is working towards a day of anti-racism and anti-xenophobic action on Human Rights Day, 21 March. DM/MC


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