Spartacist South Africa No. 7
Anti-Immigrant Attacks Mount as Mass Deportations Loom
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
June 25—As the date approaches when the South African government is threatening to begin mass deportations of undocumented Zimbabweans from the country, attacks on immigrants have been rising steadily in recent months. This is no accident. The state campaign to crack down on Zimbabweans and other immigrants is wind in the sails of the reactionary mobs carrying out attacks in the streets—attacks which the cops and other armed bodies of the capitalist state regularly participate in. For the bourgeois Tripartite Alliance government, scape-goating immigrants is a convenient outlet for the anger at the base of society over the desperate poverty which continues to define life under neo-apartheid for the black majority, pitting different sectors of the oppressed against each other in a desperate struggle for the bare necessities of survival.
In September last year the government announced it was ending the “special dispensation” which had allowed Zimbabweans to stay in this country without documentation. This means that there could be mass deportations of “illegal” Zimbabwean immigrants as early as August, after the current moratorium on deportations is set to expire. With the number of Zimbabweans in South Africa estimated as high as two million, and with only about 250 000 having managed to submit their applications before the 31 December 2010 deadline, these deportations threaten hundreds of thousands who are already living in fear.
The timing of these threatened deportations is particularly dangerous to many political activists, who could be forced to return to Zimbabwe just as political repression is mounting in anticipation of elections which might be held later this year. We say: No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! The social power of the trade unions needs to be mobilised to fight for these elementary demands as part of a struggle for jobs for all and to organise immigrants and other unorganised workers into the unions with full rights, pay and benefits.
From the beginning this government campaign, under the label of “Zimbabwe Documentation Process”, has been carried out with the maximum amount of cruelty and negligence typical of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) bureaucracy which is responsible for regimenting the lives of immigrants in this country. The bureaucratic nightmare facing those who try to comply with the draconian new rules has been documented in a number of studies by immigrant rights groups—the ridiculously short 3-month window for submitting applications, which meant that the DHA never could have even accepted all the applications; constantly changing rules and requirements; abuse and extortion by cops and security guards policing the queues outside DHA offices; the list never ends.
The attack on Zimbabweans is just the start of more draconian measures which will hit other immigrants from Africa and Asia. These include the Immigration Amendment Bill which would reduce the period of transit for asylum seekers from 14 to 5 days and impose jail sentences of up to 4 years for “illegal” immigrants and anyone who assists them. In the latest example of wanton cruelty, at the end of May the DHA shut down its only Johannesburg office for refugees and asylum seekers, following a court case by business owners in the area who complained it was a “nuisance”.
Since May, a group called the Greater Gauteng Business Forum (GGBF) has been going around in townships around Johannesburg threatening pogroms against foreign shop-owners who don’t shut down their stores. The GGBF thugs have clearly been given a green light by the cops, who reportedly were informed ahead of their raids in a number of cases. Recently, the Somali Community Board has filed a court affidavit charging that members of the South African Police Service and army, as well as metro cops, participated alongside the GGBF in anti-foreigner raids in the squatter camp of Ramaphosa east of Johannesburg (City Press, 29 May). The GGBF raids have served to encourage further anti-immigrant violence across the country. In late May, several foreign-owned shops were burnt and 55 looted in Motherwell and KwaDwesi townships near Port Elizabeth. In mid-June in Limpopo, Godfrey Sibanda, a Zimbabwean man, was stoned to death and thousands of other Zimbabwean immigrants were forced into hiding as anti-immigrant vigilante mobs rampaged.
There have been reports of groups of people standing up to the anti-immigrant bigots, such as women shop workers in Ramaphosa who defended a Somali-owned shop against the GGBF on June 1. They must be backed up by defence guards centred on the social power of the industrial trade unions with their strategic immigrant component, who could make short work of the reactionary scum represented by the likes of the GGBF.
In the face of the current resurgence of anti-immigrant violence, it is crucial for class conscious workers and other fighters against capitalist oppression to remember the deadly pogroms three years ago and draw the political lessons needed to mobilise labour’s social power to prevent them from happening again.
The 2008 attacks began with mobs in the Jo’burg township of Alexandra attacking mainly Zimbabwean, Mozambican and Malawian immigrants on 11 May 2008. The attacks then spread to other townships around Gauteng and ultimately across the whole country. Sixty-two people were killed and many more were maimed and raped, while tens of thousands were driven from their houses, shacks and shops, losing most or all of their possessions.
At the time, even government spokesmen acknowledged that the root cause of the pogroms lay in anger over the desperate conditions in the townships that still persist 17 years after the demise of apartheid. But it is the Tripartite Alliance government of the ANC and its partners in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) bureaucracy that is responsible for these conditions. There have been continual protests in townships throughout the country over the lack of service delivery—i.e., electricity, housing, water and sewage systems. The SACP and COSATU misleaders have to date refused to mount any kind of mass protest or labour mobilisation to combat the attacks on immigrants.
As with the increasing attacks today, the violence in 2008 was abetted by the police who, even as they flooded into the townships, carried out their own vicious attacks in residential areas and on the streets. After hundreds of people swarmed into an Alexandra police station seeking protection, Home Affairs minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula announced on 14 May 2008 that the government would not deport “illegal” immigrants at this time. The very next day, police in Olifantsfontein, near the Tembisa township, arrested 32 immigrants they had “rescued” who lacked documentation. Asked about the minister’s statement, a police spokesman replied, “We are only doing our job.” Outside Soweto two days later, police stopped a taxi van and demanded that two women they considered “too dark” to be South African show inoculation marks to supposedly prove their citizenship.
The scope of the 2008 attacks points to the danger of far wider violence pitting black African groups against each other and against coloureds and other minorities. In Alexandra, Zulu speakers were reportedly involved in attacks against not only immigrants but also South Africans who speak Venda, Xhosa, Shangaan or other languages. Interethnic hostilities, anti-immigrant terror and tribal divisions—which were reinforced under white-supremacist apartheid rule—are enduring features of the neo-apartheid capitalist order under the Tripartite Alliance. In putting forward the call for a black-centred workers government, we noted in our 1997 pamphlet “The Fight for a Revolutionary Vanguard Party: Polemics on the South African Left”:
“Widespread expectations for better housing and jobs cannot be met; even simple democratic demands such as the right to an education for all children or the right of women to birth control and abortion are denied to the overwhelming majority by social inequality and lack of facilities. If the masses’ frustration does not find expression along class lines it will fuel and embitter every other kind of division.”
We reprint below a leaflet originally issued on 15 May 2008.
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In the latest wave of anti-immigrant violence sweeping South Africa, lynch mobs in Alexandra township have killed five people and wounded and raped scores of others since May 11. One of those killed, a South African, had refused to take part in the attacks. Thugs demolished shacks and stole personal belongings. After more than 1 000 people, mainly from Zimbabwe and Mozambique, fled to the Alexandra police station for protection, the cops announced they would demand identification papers, posing the threat of deporting “illegal” immigrants. From Tshwane (Pretoria) to the Eastern Cape, Somalis, Zimbabweans and others have been killed in similar mob attacks, while the government continues its anti-immigrant roundups and steps up repression along the border with Zimbabwe.
The situation cries out for a mobilisation of trade-union power to stop these attacks! From the mines and farms to the motor industry, immigrant workers have been integral to the economy and labour movement in South Africa. Spartacist South Africa, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), demands: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations! The pogroms against immigrants in desperately impoverished Alexandra have spilled over into attacks on Venda-speaking and darker-skinned South African blacks. Different layers of the oppressed are put at each others’ throats to deflect anger from the real enemy: the white capitalist class, with its black front men. But for the unions to champion the cause of immigrants and the poor requires a political struggle against the pro-capitalist misleaders of COSATU, which is dominated by the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the NACTU and FEDUSA labour federations.
The bourgeois African National Congress (ANC) and the COSATU bureaucrats mouth pious phrases against “intolerance” and the “frustration” of the poor. But it is the ANC/SACP/COSATU Tripartite Alliance government that oversees neo-apartheid capitalism, under which the overwhelming majority are locked in grinding poverty and black people remain on the bottom. The poor in this country, and hundreds of millions around the world, are faced with starvation from rising food prices, which are at bottom caused not by shortages but by price-gouging and other capitalist profiteering.
Since 1994, the Alliance government has helped spawn repeated xenophobic outbreaks in which immigrants are used as scapegoats for mass unemployment, poverty and crime. Last year alone some 250 000 people were deported. Actions like the January police raid on the Central Methodist Church, long a haven for refugees, only encourage mob attacks as in Alexandra. At the May Day rally in North West, ANC president Jacob Zuma cloaked the call to crack down on immigrants with empty words of sympathy, saying that “the ANC government will naturally take strong measures to restrict illegal immigration” in line with the “human rights ethos of our country”!
As under apartheid, the capitalist state in “democratic” South Africa defends the rule and profits of the Randlords—and their senior partners on Wall Street and in the City of London—against the oppressed black, coloured and Indian toilers. To hold the popular front together, the SACP reformists provide the ideological glue of the “national democratic revolution”, which puts forward the nationalist lie that all black people—from rich businessmen like Tokyo Sexwale to Alexandra squatters—have common interests. This obscures the fundamental class divide in the service of containing proletarian struggle.
The COSATU tops, the SACP and the rest of the reformist left treacherously paint the cops as “fellow workers” and “comrades”. The SACP’s own Charles Nqakula is the minister of cops. The police are at the core of the capitalist state, an instrument of oppression of one class by another. In February 2001, cops attacked thousands of squatters and residents of Alexandra along the Jukskei River who were evicted in scenes that brought to mind apartheid-era forced removals. Earlier this year, mobs attacking “foreigners” in Atteridgeville, outside Tshwane, were aided by police who, according to the victims, “stood back and, indeed, encouraged the violence” (Mail & Guardian, 28 March). In Alexandra this week, cops broke up attempts by immigrants to defend themselves. Meanwhile on May 13, cops in Tshwane fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at up to 300 protesters from the SAMWU municipal workers union, which was on strike, near an award ceremony for Nelson Mandela that included government officials. One striker said, “What is there to celebrate when we go to sleep each night on an empty stomach?” (Daily Sun, 14 May). Cops out of the unions!
Zimbabweans, who make up much of the estimated three to five million immigrants in South Africa, continue to flee unbearable conditions of poverty, exacerbated by imperialist economic pressures, and the violence of the bourgeois nationalist Mugabe regime. In the current elections, both the Mugabe regime and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of Morgan Tsvangirai, which is backed by white farmers and the imperialists, represent the class enemy of the proletariat. South African president Thabo Mbeki has been propping up Mugabe, while the COSATU and SACP leaderships implicitly or explicitly back the MDC.
In this context, the Durban SATAWU dock workers union, affiliated with COSATU, refused to unload a Chinese ship carrying arms for Zimbabwe last month. As revolutionary Marxists, we oppose this military aid, whose only purpose would be to aid Mugabe in crushing his internal opposition. But we do not support this boycott, which was anything but the paragon of labour solidarity it was proclaimed to be by left groups and labour bureaucrats around the world. The “labour action” in Durban—carried out jointly with the cops—and the subsequent international boycott of the ship were in line with the anti-Mugabe campaign orchestrated by London and Washington. During her recent visit to Southern Africa, US assistant secretary of state Jendayi Frazer praised the unions involved for creating a “leadership moment”. This from a mouthpiece of the most murderous state power in history and the foremost enemy of the world proletariat! The hue and cry over the arms shipment also coincided with the reactionary “Free Tibet” campaign against the Chinese deformed workers state. The International Communist League stands for the unconditional military defence of China against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution while fighting for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy.
The South African proletariat, which is exploited by a capitalist class whose holdings extend throughout Southern Africa, has the social power to liberate not only the downtrodden masses in this country but those of the entire region groaning under neocolonial misery. But it cannot realise this potential when it is chained to its exploiters through the Tripartite Alliance nationalist popular front. The same COSATU tops who willingly put their union at the service of the bourgeois MDC have done nothing to mobilise union power in defence of Zimbabwean immigrants or the township poor. Break with the Tripartite Alliance! To unite workers against their class enemy, what’s needed is a class-struggle fight for jobs for all through a shorter workweek at no loss in pay, for massive wage increases to combat poverty and rampant inflation, for affordable, quality, integrated housing for all. The burning needs of the masses will not be realised short of the overthrow of South African capitalism, a system based on white privilege and the superexploitation of black labour. Spartacist South Africa fights to build a Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party, which would act as a tribune of the people. Defending all of the oppressed and exploited in the struggle for proletarian state power, such a party would cut through the ethnic hatreds born of the horrendous poverty produced by superexploitation.
We fight for a black-centred workers government which would include a full role and democratic rights for coloureds, Indians and those whites prepared to live under such a government. We do not regard as sacrosanct the borders that were drawn up by the colonialists, which have no correspondence with tribal or ethnic groupings. Our program is for a socialist federation of Southern Africa, in which there will be an equal place for all the myriad peoples of the region. As we wrote in “South Africa: For a Black-Centered Workers Government!” (Workers Vanguard No. 911, 28 March): “The expropriation of the bourgeoisie would begin to lay the material foundations for social equality. But this perspective can only be fully realised through the extension of socialist revolution to the most advanced capitalist countries and the establishment of a collectivised, planned world economy.” Reforge the Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution!