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ANC speaks with forked tongue on xenophobia


Fredson Guilengue works for the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS) regional office in Johannesburg. He has published extensively on Mozambique’s politics. His work also extends to areas such as social movements, land, agrarian issues and climate change. He is currently enrolled for his PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand.

If President Cyril Ramaphosa’s view condemning xenophobia represents the official positions of the South African state and the ANC, who was ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe speaking for when he effectively endorsed Operation Dudula?

The issue of xenophobic attacks against foreign nationals has once again reached disturbing levels in South Africa. Although latent for a few years now, Mbhodazwe Nyathi. a Zimbabwean gardener, was recently accused of being a criminal and killed by a mob just metres from his house following days of tension in Diepsloot.

The motivation of the vigilantes who killed Nyathi was simply the fact that Nyathi could not prove to them that he was either a South African national or that he was staying in South Africa legally (they were going to be judge and jury over what legality meant in this case).

The barbaric killing of Mbhodazwe Nyathi is a strong symptom of a much bigger catastrophe that awaits South Africa if the ruling ANC does not take a common firm position against xenophobia and othering in general.  

While it is apparent from some of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s public statements that he condemns and stands against xenophobia, his position does not seem be clearly visible in a manner that filters down to the entire party rank and file. As we have seen in many other issues relating to Ramaphosa’s running of state affairs, some members within the ANC and the government do not seem to align with his views or vision.

For example, a recent incendiary statement by ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe embracing the xenophobic cause of the vigilante group Operation Dudula represents another contradiction with what is known to be the position of his own president. While Pule Mabe praised the movement for, according to the Mail &Guardian, affirming the ANC’s view, Ramaphosa took a different view, reiterating the need for South Africans to show respect towards people from other nations. He even denounced the police checking of foreign nationals’ identification cards (IDs) and compared this type of police action with apartheid practices.

If Ramaphosa’s view represents the official positions of the South African state and the ANC, who was Pule Mabe speaking for? On whose behalf was Pule Mabe “endorsing” Operation Dudula?

Pule Mabe is not just a mere member of the ruling party. He is the national spokesperson of the ANC. His job is to speak on behalf of the party at the national level, expressing the views and the positions of the highest structures of the ANC on a number of matters. There should not be a single doubt about his alignment with the party president. Unless he is openly defying his boss and endorsing Operation Dudula?  

Nevertheless, it is not the first time that we have experienced a disconnect between President Ramaphosa and some high-level cadres of the ANC. We all remember the recent episode between the President and then Minister of Tourism Lindiwe Sisulu on what many people perceived to be an attack from her on the country’s Constitution, which was in stark contrast to the president’s view on the matter.

Another fresh episode of lack of alignment within the ANC structures was Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula contradicting Ramaphosa on the nature of the July 2022 unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. While the president classified the events as an insurrection, Minister Mapisa-Nqakula felt rather that they were acts of counter-revolution.

While the impact of this show of incoherence in the ANC can quite possibly be ascribed to political embarrassment at the moment as the ANC scrambles to find a plausible explanation to the kind of violence that we have just witnessed in Diepsloot and elsewhere, the absence of a common firm position against acts of xenophobia may lead to a major disaster.

With xenophobic tensions already very high, the continuous loop of blaming migrants for some of the gravest problems in the country — including corruption, crime, unemployment, poor health services and others — that is playing out in the media in a context of record-high unemployment weak state security, and increasing politicisation of migration at national and local level, will certainly lead to potentially uncontrolled bloodshed.

Moreover, the ANC knows very well that the narrative blaming migrants for the current crisis in South Africa is totally disconnected from the reality. As the governing party, the ANC knows the structural constraints hampering job creation in South Africa, the causes and types of corruption, and that nationality is not synonymous with crime.

Furthermore, because of its own historical experience of exile (migration) in which pan-Africanist solidarity paid a central role in the survival of the ANC as a liberation movement, and which later led to freedom in South Africa, the party has the historical debt of leading the struggle for the unity of the African people. Of all liberation movements, the ANC is the one that benefited the most from pan-African and global solidarity.

While this does not mean that as a result, South Africa must carry the burden of all other African countries, it certainly demands a more proactive role from South Africa, through a people-oriented foreign policy and diplomacy in fighting for effective peace, democracy, and socioeconomic progress on the continent.

That is the kind of proactive coherent message that the ANC should be announcing from the front and not act in a manner that casts doubt on its honest and firm endorsement of pluralistic values. DM


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