Anti-Immigrant Attacks in South Africa. Report by First of May Anarchist Alliance member

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by D. (First of May Anarchist Alliance)

KNIFE EDGE: An immigrant waits for gangs of locals that attacked foreign shop owners in the Durban city centre yesterday. At least three people were stabbed and one burnt. Image by: TEBOGO LETSIE
KNIFE EDGE: An immigrant waits for gangs of locals that attacked foreign shop owners in the Durban city centre yesterday. At least three people were stabbed and one burnt. Image by: TEBOGO LETSIE

The following is a short summary of the anti-immigrant violence happening in several cities and townships in South Africa. The Report is made by a member of First of May Anarchist Alliance currently living in South Africa and has been slightly edited by the ZACF with the author’s consent.

It’s an unfortunate situation that’s having an impact on everybody here in Durban. Downtown has been a no go zone during the night, it has been the primary battleground between native South Africans and immigrants in the city. In response the ANC controlled government has organized nationwide counter demonstrations on Thursday that brought out tens of thousands of people, however on the following day more looting of immigrant shops was reported in Johannesburg.

Tension between indigenous South Africans (Zulu’s Xhosa’s etc.) and “foreigners” (Nigerians Ethiopians Somali’s etc.) has been bubbling for a quite a while. SA in particular has a long history Xenophobia that dates back to the days of apartheid and has even increased since its demise. The last big wave in 2008, left dozens dead and injured in Cape Town Durban and Johannesburg. Just last month there was a riot in Soweto where again foreign-owned businesses were looted, though some dispute whether they were targeted or just a coincidence that they happened to be foreign.

The direct cause for the current crisis is being squarely blamed on the Zulu king’s recent statement on how foreigners should “take their bags and go”, although it’s not entirely clear if this is the only cause. There was also a labour incident in a township close to Durban called Isipingo, which has been another flashpoint for anti-immigrant violence. The situation there reportedly spiraled out of control when foreign workers crossed a picket line and scabbed on the union. Needless to say there appear to be many different issues behind this, but they all seem to have a common reference point: that more and more working class and poor people are finding it extremely difficult to live in this society.

Zuma and friends in the parliament have responded by arguing for more clampdowns on illegal immigration but little else has been offered as a solution. This is probably because many of the people who support Zuma support his anti-immigration agenda. Some have probably themselves engaged in the rioting. Therefore I assume their response will be nothing out of the ordinary: romantic words about the “rainbow nation” and a more heavy-handed policy on immigration.

But, of course the most awful part about this is that most of the victims of looting are poor displaced blacks from other African countries. The massive theft happening every day at the hands of foreign multinationals (billion dollar corporations like Monsanto and Shell) goes unnoticed, their businesses are left completely unscathed. What it boils down to is ultimately a side-effect of capitalism: where 90% are forced to fight over the 10% that’s left. In a country where the unemployment rate is somewhere close to 25%, this should be of no surprise. The people are expressing righteous anger but focusing it in the wrong direction.

It’s worth mentioning that many Zulus are against the xenophobic outbursts. Conversely, foreigners, rather than leaving, have responded by defending themselves in the streets. I know of an Ethiopian family who has had to close down one of their shops and one who was recently stabbed though I’m not sure if the stabbing was connected to the attacks; it could have just been another mugging but regardless I can understand the need for self defense right now. Now Boko Haram is threatening to enter the arena if SA doesn’t solve the crises before tomorrow. Only time will tell whether they are serious.

Although anger is justifiable, directing it in this way will only serve further divide society along artificial ethnic lines. Sowing division is a deliberate strategy by the ruling class – big business and the state that supports it – which benefit from working class disunity, and from the shifting of the blame. This serves as a reminder to revolutionaries of the necessity to dismantle capitalism and the state. The government has proven it has no interest in “fixing” anything; it will only attempt to take advantage of the situation to gain more power as it has always done. We must make clear not only who the real enemy is but also our allies in a fight that will determine and have consequences – not only in this society but the world.