by Lucien van der Walt (ZACF)
*Text commissioned by Unemployed People’s Movement, Grahamstown, October 2015.
*Edited version: November 2016.
A year ago, starting 20 October 2015, around 75 small shops were looted, some burned down, in the eastern townships and downtown area of the small Eastern Cape university town of Grahamstown/ iRhini, South Africa. The attacks targeted Asian and African immigrants, many of them Muslim, and displaced 500 people. These riots were largely ignored by the media.
The text below is a slightly revised revision of a briefing I was asked to write at the time for the local Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM). The UPM played a heroic role in opposing the attacks and assisting the displaced. The text’s general points remain relevant to the working class’s fight against prejudice and racism. And the riots of 2015 should not be forgotten.
The poem below was written by Zimbabwean Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front comrade Leroy Maisiri, against the backdrop of the a wave of riots against African and Asian ‘foreigners’ that started to sweep Grahamstown, South Africa, from Wednesday 21 October 2015. By Saturday, around 300 shops, mostly small businesses, owned by people from countries like Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Somalia, had been targeted, many burnedand looted. Perhaps 500 people have been displaced, many are in hiding. While university and college student protests across town faced down the state in the fight against high fees in a heroic struggle, mobs provoked by rumours of murders and mutilations by ‘foreigners,’spurred on by malicious forces including local taxi drivers, attacked the ‘foreigners.’ Heroic efforts by the local Unemployed Peoples Movement (UPM) and some other township residents were not enough to halt the carnage. Working class, see this divide-and-rule for what it is! You have nothing to gain from this. As the UPM says, “We are all the victims of colonialism and capitalism. We all need to stand together for justice. If unemployed young men chase a man from Pakistan out of Grahamstown they will still be unemployed and poor the next day. The students have shown us what unity can do.” The students have shown us the way forward.