One Year after the 2015 Grahamstown Riots against Foreign Traders: Attacks Hurt Working Class and Poor, Only Capitalists and Politicians Benefit
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.
by Lucien van der Walt
As the 100th anniversary of the outbreak in August 1914 of World War One fades, let us remember that imperialism harms all working class people – including those in imperialist and Western countries, and the white working class.
It is often said that Western workers benefit from imperialism, or imperialist profits, or that welfare in the West is funded by imperialism – but all of these claims fall in the face of realities like World War One (1914-1918). This war – between Germany and Britain and their respective allies – was, at least in part, fought for a re-division of the European-ruled colonies.
[Download the PDF here]
- South Africa and the DRC: Has Rhodes passed on the baton? by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
- Class Rule Must Fall! More Statues, More Working Class by Leroy Maisiri
- For How Long can South African Elites Keep Misleading the People? by Philip Nyalungu
- SPEECH: Working Class Struggle, Blazing a Path to Freedom by Lucien van der Walt
- The General Approach of Anarchists/Syndicalists to the United Front and NUMSA by Jakes Factoria and Tina Sizovuka
- In the Rubble of US Imperialism: The PKK, YPG and the Islamic State by Shawn Hattingh (ZACF)
- The State of Climate Change by Bongani Maponyane (ZACF)
- Building a Mass Anarchist Movement: The Example of Spain’s CNT by Thabang Sefalafala and Lucien van der Walt
- Imperial Wars, Imperialism and the Losers: A Critique of Certain ‘Labour Aristocracy’ Theories by Lucien van der Walt
Black Stars of Anarchism
- Domingos Passos: The Brazilian Bakunin by Renato Ramos and Alexandre Samis
- Review: Spanish Revolution Remembered: Peirats’ “The CNT in the Spanish Revolution” by Jakes Factoria
- The Anarchist Road to Revolution by Bongani Maponyane (ZACF)
- Putting Politics into Practice: The Importance of Democracy and Education in Unions by Pitso Mompe (ZACF)
- Anarchism and Counter-Culture: The Centrality of Ideas by Warren McGregor (ZACF)
In 2013, Zabalaza/ ZACF took a decision to redirect our energies into certain aspects of our work that we felt were more urgent and immediately important at the time, given the challenges and conditions we were facing. The bad news is that this decision took its toll on our publishing work, which partly explains the long gap (over two years) between issues of our journal. The good news is that this reorientation has paid off elsewhere: hiccups notwithstanding, over the past two years our militants have participated in various new initiatives in and around Johannesburg, where we have witnessed a renewed and growing interest in anarchism. The inclusion of several new names in this issue is a much-welcomed reflection of these changes.
Over the past two years, there have been many important developments that deserve special consideration. We have tried to include our own, anarchist, appraisals of these where possible, although in some respects we have fallen unavoidably short. It is precisely because South Africa’s burning social and national issues remain unresolved (in fact they cannot be resolved within the existing capitalist and political party systems established in 1910 and 1994), that the country continues to undergo social turbulence, seen in strikes, union splits, struggles over symbols, and sadly, anti-immigrant attacks.
In the heat of the struggle for statues like that of Rhodes – the arch-symbol of British imperialism – to be pulled down, and in the midst of the horror of the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, few people seemed to notice an announcement by Jacob Zuma that South African troops will remain at war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for another year.
Of course, Zuma made this announcement on behalf of the South African ruling class – comprised today of white capitalists and a black elite mainly centred around the state, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and ‘traditional’ royal families. In this there was a real irony that while Rhodes’s likeness was falling from its perch at the University of Cape Town, and immigrants from other parts of Africa and Asia were being attacked because of sentiments stoked up by a rehabilitated relic of apartheid (the Zulu king, Zwelithini), the South African ruling class felt brash enough to say they will be continuing their own imperialist war in the DRC.
Like in all wars, including those promoted by the likes of Rhodes, it is not the ruling class that are actually doing the fighting in the DRC, but the sons and daughters of the working class. Reflecting on the First World War, Alexander Berkman noted that the working class are not really sent to war to save the poor or workers, but to protect and further the interests of the rulers, governors and capitalists of their countries1. This applies equally so today in the case of South African troops’ involvement in the DRC. Indeed, what South Africa’s war in the DRC shows is that the South African ruling class don’t just exploit and oppress the working class in South Africa, but the working class in many other areas in the rest of Africa. It also shows that both at home and abroad they will use violence to do so, including trying to turn different sections of the working class on one another, by amongst other things tapping into nationalism, racism, ethnic chauvinism and xenophobia.