ANC leaders fan flames of xenophobia: reply with class solidarity and internationalism

The Workers and Socialist Party unequivocally condemns the xenophobic attacks on foreign-owned spaza shops that began in Soweto, and spread to the West Rand, Alexandra township, Khayelitsha in the Western Cape and Inanda in Kwa Zulu Natal.

A partially-deaf 74-year-old Malawian man is amongst the half a dozen dead so far. He was disembowelled before being set on fire. A child was trampled to death by looters. Like us, the majority of residents in the townships affected will be horrified. Hundreds more have fled their homes and abandoned their businesses.

There can be no justification for the violence and singling out of the foreigner-born. The overwhelming majority of them, like their South African counterparts in this small business sector, are trying to make an honest living. Ordinarily they are welcomed into the townships, their businesses surviving, even prospering from the custom of township residents because of the convenience of being able to shop virtually on your door step, the option to purchase on credit until pension and welfare payments come through which is of course impossible at supermarkets normally at least one taxi ride away.

Working class solidarity to unite across ethnic, racial and national divisions

The South African working class has a well established tradition of international solidarity, the best example of which is the mineworkers. Coming from across the whole of Southern Africa, the unity of the mineworkers irrespective of nationality has been the basis of their power. Similarly, Cosatu’s tradition of non-racial class solidarity enabled it to unite workers of all races and to sweep aside the racist white trade unions of the apartheid era.

Shockingly, tribalism has penetrated Cosatu affiliates, polluting one of its most sacred principles – non-racial class solidarity. At its last congress, battle for control of the NUM is widely known to have been fought on a tribal basis – Nguni vs non-Nguni leaving only one national office bearers as non-Nguni. SACP Deputy-General Secretary Jeremy Cronin could have taken his denunciation of the 2012 mineworkers that culminated in the Marikana massacre straight from one of colonial SA’s overlords when he described it as the action of a “Pondoland-vigilante mafia.”

It is no accident that the erosion of Cosatu’s power, cohesion and political authority today lie in ruins. It has been infected by the ideological and political degeneration of its alliance partners – the ANC and SACP. With Cosatu, the ANC and SACP having degenerated ideologically, the Tripartite Alliance has individually and collectively become a source of all the backwardness and divisions on which apartheid was built, there has never been a greater need for the unity that a mass workers party would bring. Disgracefully Cosatu and the SACP have maintained a deafening silence on the xenophobia. Worse, Cosatu Kwa Zulu Natal secretary, Zet Luzuko, has supported Nomvula Mokonyane’s xenophobic statements (see below).

ANC’s denies xenophobia to protect reputation

We also condemn the ANC’s government’s absurd insistence that these attacks are not xenophobic. Breaking out as a SA government delegation was attending the World Economic Forum, where they claim to be punching above their weight with what is claimed to be amongst the most progressive constitutions and human rights laws in the world, the xenophobia threatened to derail efforts to promote SA as an attractive foreign investment destination. This denialism is clearly driven by the government’s desperate desire to protect its international image especially on the African continent where it is attempting to play the role of leader and where it promotes South African capitalist interests.

The capitalist powers hypocritically condemn xenophobia whilst their imperialist foreign policies trample over ‘human rights’ and democracy. But more than that, the ANC knows they have helped to create the conditions for xenophobia to rear its ugly head. It is also an irresponsible and misleading oversimplification to denounce the violence as “pure criminality.”

Xenophobia rooted in ANC’s capitalist policies and corruption

The tragic events of this week can only be understood  by recognising that that they are rooted in the brutal social conditions of the capitalist system that has created the most unequal society on earth, whose barbaric underbelly has once again been exposed as it was in 2008 as we explained in our previous statement. It is these conditions that provide the breeding ground for crime, drug addiction and violence against women and children. Like alien vegetation, they also provide fertile soil for the breakdown of the solidarity that the working class has had to develop to survive and resist exploitation and oppression, replacing it instead with suspicion, hatred and bigotry.

Layered over these levels of gross inequality is the rampant corruption of an arrogant political and economic elite. The ANC’s determined campaign to shield the president of the country from accountability for the corruption surrounding Nkandla has entailed not only the abuse of state resources to enrich his lawyers in court battle after court battle, but now even parliament itself into which the Riot Police have been called to protect him.

Corrupt leaders are rewarded with domestic and international diplomatic postings. The judiciary and state security agencies are manipulated to ensure that Zuma will not face prosecution for the arms deal-related corruption. Big business is rapped over the knuckles with feather duster fines for corruption which they pay for from budgets specially set aside for this purpose. As the early 90s Codesa negotiations were putting together the final touches of the post apartheid constitutional dispensation, a bread cartel, including Tiger Brands colluded to push up the price of bread – a staple of the poor. Over the subsequent two decades, the impotent Competition Authorities have had their hands full as big business engaged in an orgy of looting by price collusion across almost every significant industry. Very little can compete with this for cynicism! For the capitalists the freedom that came with democracy — a constitutional dispensation for the continuation of the economic dictatorship of the capitalist class under the mask of parliamentary democracy — was the freedom to loot and exploit.

The combustible material for the latent xenophobia simmers stubbornly particularly  within the most marginalised layers of society, kept on slow boil by the miserable social conditions affecting the working class majority. But even the new black middle class the ANC leadership has taken to boasting about exaggeratedly as their ‘achievement’, lives a precarious existence. A significant proportion of these ‘one-carat diamonds’ as one commentator described them, are just one pay cheque away from destitution.

 Competition in small business sector

But it is in the small business sector that this sense of uncertainty as to what tomorrow holds is felt most sharply, resting on the necks of small entrepreneurs like a sword. SA has one of the biggest expanses of retail floor space in the world competing with countries like Brazil whose population dwarfs its own. Malls are mushrooming no longer in places beyond the reach of working class consumers, but increasingly near townships – a new standard of ‘development’ as municipalities compete for the patronage of the wealthiest who own the big brand names like Shoprite.

Unable to afford the extortionate rentals inside the malls, small business owners have been squeezed out of business. 70% of small businesses in Soweto go bankrupt within less than 5 years. The path of self-employment is strewn with the obstacles of government incompetence and corruption. Many small businesses have failed simply because government cannot pay on time for goods and services procured from them.

It is this section of the SA population that feels particularly bitter towards foreign-born traders operating in the townships who they believe wrongly to be receiving government support for their businesses whilst South Africans are starving. Yet foreign-born small businesses get not more help from the state than their SA counterparts.  They ensure their success by cooperative procurement within their communities to benefit from economies of scale, operating on very low profit margins, cutting overheads by sleeping in their shops, working long hours and developing relations with their customers by extending credit to those dependent on pensions and other social grants. Squeezed between the malls and the thriving businesses of their foreign-born counterparts SA small business associations have often been the most strident in their denunciation of foreigners “who don’t pay tax and sleep in their shops.”

Drugs and the foreign-owned spaza shops

Rumours, whether substantiated or not, that foreigners use their spaza shops to supply drugs to township youths amongst whom nyaope has become an epidemic as they seek an escape from a life that amounts to a mere existence – with no prospect of a job or  further education – have added fuel to the fire of xenophobic antagonism. If foreign-born traders are involved in drug-peddling, then action should be taken by the authorities in the same way as they should against any SA citizen.

But it is clear that the drug problem is facilitated by government impotence, police incompetence and corruption. Zuma and former Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane’s much hyped promise to eradicate the drug problem in Eldorado Park has come to nothing.

The increase in drug use – which has resulted in a significant increase in house-breaking and theft by addicts desperate to feed the habit unleashing mayhem in the townships — is undoubtedly driven by highly organised international drug cartels powerful enough to draw in the likes of the wife of the former Minister of Intelligence, Cheryl …. (now serving a long term jail sentence) and brought disgrace on the former Commissioner of Police, the late Jackie Selebi.

ANC leaders fan flames of xenophobia

This toxic antagonism towards the foreigner-born is reinforced by the latent xenophobia within the ruling political elite which periodically finds public expression in incendiary outbursts by senior political leaders. Shockingly the task team government has now established to address the xenophobia, has implied, in a thinly veiled xenophobic statement by team leader, Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, that foreign-born traders have brought these attacks upon themselves. In a piece of advice that is astonishing in its ignorance and is racially inflammatory, she calls upon foreign-born traders them to share their “trade  secrets”  with their SA counterparts who, she advises, have been disadvantaged by apartheid from learning business skills!

This was preceded by a statement by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe suggesting that the problem lies in a lack of immigration controls which need to be tightened to prevent the establishment of Boko Haram cells. Not to be outdone, Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, in famous for insulting Bekkersdal voters by saying the ANC did not want their dirty votes, has now gone onto Facebook to blast Somali and Pakistanis. In a statement that can only be interpreted as incitement to “cleanse” the townships of their presence, she claims that every second spaza shop or general dealer is run by Somalis and Pakistanis”. Our townships cannot be a site of a subtle takeover….Our people have moved out of Chief Mogale houses  to give way to this. Never! This must stop!”

Such remarks are reckless and inflammatory, fan the flames of xenophobia deepen suspicions and divisions. “There are too many of them”, “they sell drugs” ”they habour Boko Haram cells”… these are the ignorant rumours that constitute the language of pogroms reinforcing existing prejudices by lending them the cover of legitimacy of senior government spokesperson. As in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, unscrupulous warlords will use such inflammatory rhetoric, to organise pogroms  confident in the knowledge that senior political leaders agree with them whatever the official position of government may be.

Government immigration policy is becoming increasingly xenophobic, designed to maximise the inconvenience for immigrants, and calculated to keep out the poor and welcome the rich. At the new immigration centre in Tshwane immigrants have over the past few days protested against the insulting manner in which they are treated, the lengthy delays in the processing of applications for permits and the rampant corruption of police demanding bribes and assaulting them.

Ministers at all levels give voice to these prejudices blaming the failing health system for example on the pressure allegedly placed on it by foreigners. In this atmosphere some health workers have refused to treat African foreigners. Police regularly physically attack foreigners, illegally confiscating their goods, and exact bribes from them with impunity. In sharp contrast to the contemptuous treatment of poor mainly African foreigners at the country’s borders, the ANC government has been prepared to lick the boots of the repressive Chinese regime embarrassing itself in front of the world over the Dalai Lama question.

The ANC government’s capitalist policies have in other words created the social conditions and the atmosphere for xenophobia. Indirectly blaming foreigners provides the government with a convenient and on the face of it, plausible excuse for service delivery failures. In the absence of a different explanation – one that points out that the real root of the problem is capitalism — the idea that without foreigners we would all have jobs and the government would have more resources to provide decent social services seems to make sense and finds an echo amongst the most marginalised.

To the people who resorted to the levels of depravity witnessed this week, appeals to humanity and internationalist solidarity are no more than moral bleatings. They do not put bread on the table. That this can happen in a country governed by a party that was supported sometimes at significant cost by other countries is an indictment of the ANC and a measure of the decline of its moral authority.

The ANC has created the sense that criminal behaviour is not morally reprehensible. In fact it is how to make your way in life. The SABC’s Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s defiant refusal to vacate his post despite having been found to have lied about his qualifications, the near doubling of his salary through illegitimate increases he awarded himself and Zuma’s refusal to pay back the money he owes the for the security upgrades at Nkandla are morally indistinguishable from looting a spaza shop – except that it is against the country as a whole that the crime is being committed.

Xenophobia a warning –build a mass workers party for working class unity internationalism and socialism

That is why the establishment of a mass workers party set into motion by the Marikana massacre that led to the formation of WASP, the EFF and the resolutions of Numsa’s historic December 2013 special national congress,  needs to be concluded as a matter of urgency.  If the political vacuum that currently exists is not filled, explosions of anger and all the brutal consequences of misdirected rage will be a recurring feature of society. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If the vacuum is not filled with progressive content, with a political party that promotes workers unity, internationalism and socialism, it will be filled with reaction.

The social conditions and the backward views within the ruling elite will pit not only South Africans against foreigners but South Africans against each other. The nationalism that courses through the ANC’s veins has never been cleansed of tribalism, ethnicism, racism and discrimination against women.  There is a widespread view that whereas under Mbeki the country was ruled by a ‘Xhosa nostra’, under Zuma it is believed that there is a ‘Zulufication’ of the state.

In Malamulele tribalism has marked service delivery protests as XiTsonga people accuse this Limpopo municipality of favouring the VaVhenda people at their expense. Within KZN there are periodic outbreaks of anti-Indian sentiments by ANC leaders and ANC aligned business organisations and expressed even in songs by popular artists. A fact little commented upon is that of the 62 who were killed in 2008, 21 were South African Shangaans who were confused with foreigners because they were dark-skinned. The rival gangs of tenderpreneurs battling for control over state resources for self enrichment have no compunction about mobilising communities on a tribal basis

The capitalist class’s inability to overcome the 7-year Great Recession despite forcing the working class to pay for it with mass unemployment and attacks on social welfare has provided the breeding ground for similar prejudices worldwide as the capitalist class actively encourages divisions in the working class to head of a revolt against the brutal measures they have taken to save their system.

The revolt has now led to the election of a new left party for the first time in 70 years in Greece as Syriza emerged as the biggest party. The political winds are blowing in the same direction in other parts of the world.  Events in SA are being closely followed by the working class worldwide with expectations raised by the resolutions adopted by Numsa’s historic special national congress to explore the formation of a workers party. Such a party must be based on a socialist programme.

WASP calls for:

  • Rallies and community meetings of foreigners to address the immediate crisis of xenophobic attacks
  • For the establishment of joint foreigner and community associations to manage conflict, integrate foreigners communities into the SA community
  • No to police brutality, bribery and corruption – police unions to adopt anti-corruption and anti-xenophobic policies
  • No to xenophobia – for education programmes in schools to educate learners and encourage
  • Combat drug abuse – organise youth anti-drug programmes
  • No to exploitation of foreign workers – trade unions to organise workers and demand equal pay and conditions and the full protection of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and LRA
  • For a mass socialist civic open to membership by foreigners
  • For a mass workers party on a socialist programme

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