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.
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.
[Download the PDF here]
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- 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
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- 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)
Those in power don’t want to confront the status quo of hatred against immigrants, or South Africa’s imperialist role in the region. They have a narrow set of interests: getting votes, accumulating wealth and power. However, the recent wave of attacks on immigrants and the ruptures of relations with other African countries – especially where South African corporations are operating – have touched the most delicate nerves of the established political powers, who have vowed to advance corporate interests in making profits.
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.