The xenophobia outbreak in South Africa: Strategic questions facing the new social movements

By Oupa Lehulere

June 2008 -- The township of Alexandra outside Johannesburg, South Africa, has a long history of resistance to oppression and exploitation. In the late 1950s Alex (as it is popularly referred to) was the centre of bus boycotts against increases in fares and of struggles against apartheid, in the 1980s Alex was the centre of building street committees that represented what were then called ``organs of people’s power’’ – forms of alternative government to the apartheid state, and in 2002 the event that announced the presence of the new social movements on the South African post-apartheid political landscape – the 20,000-strong march led by the Social Movements United – took place in Alex.

The fact that it was Alex that would go down in history as the township that expressed most publicly the reactionary attitudes held by working-class people against fellow working-class people from other parts of Africa throws into sharp relief the process of political and organisational decline that has been underway within the South Africa’s working class since 1994.

[A note on language: throughout this article I have battled with the question of how to refer to fellow Africans who are not South African citizens, and who were born in other African countries. Against the background of the violent outbreak of xenophobia, we have become sensitive to how we refer to fellow Africans from across our borders. Indeed, some who harbour the same reactionary perspectives that led to the outbreak are learning how to sound ``politically correct’’. The issue of sensitivity, however, goes far beyond not calling our class sisters and brothers by derogatory names. Even words like immigrants, foreigners, foreign nationals, undocumented workers and so on, carry their own ideological baggage. In various ways and to varying degrees their use belongs to various interpretive schemas that we criticise, and that we are committed to overcoming. As Marx remarked, in the struggle for the new society, the society of the future, we may find that we do not have words to capture the world we seek to create. For now, following Marx, we have to hope that as we build this new society the content will go beyond the phrase.]

The ANC, COSATU and the demobilisation of the working class

In the many discussions and analyses that followed the violent outbreak of xenophobia, very little discussion has been devoted to the relationship between the state of organisation of working class and the outbreak of xenophobic violence. For many mainstream analysts and commentators, as well as more left-leaning analysts, the xenophobia outbreak has been analysed only from the standpoint of lack of service delivery by the government, or from the standpoint of the role of various organs of the state like the South African Police Service and the Department of Home Affairs. Even in the few cases in which the question of organisation has been raised (such as by the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) -- albeit in the language of ``institutional politics’’ that informs this organisation’s worldview) the issue of organisation in the townships has been conceptualised mainly from the point of how it facilitated progressive responses by either preventing the outbreak from turning violent, or in stopping violence from continuing or spreading.

The presence or absence, the strength or weakness, of working-class organisations dealing with social and political issues is however a fundamental factor in understanding the rise of retrogressive tendencies within the working class. In many discussions following the outbreak of xenophobic violence, many participants have spoken about the need to ``educate’’ the South African public about various issues, including the role African countries have played in the liberation of South Africa. The point at issue, however, is that within the working class there is no shortage of ``education’’, of the process formation of opinions about non-citizens from African countries. Indeed, so strong is this process of ``education’’ that it transformed into organised violent action. The critical question, therefore, is why there has been such a lack of progressive political education and action within working-class communities? Why is it that only in a few isolated instances have we seen such progressive political interventions emerge? Why is it that, notwithstanding the national political hegemony of the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies (the Congress of South African Trade Union, the South African Communist Party and the South African National Civics Organisation – which together boast millions of members in South Africa’s black townships), do we have such deep-seated xenophobic views in the townships?

There are two possible answers to these questions: either the ANC and its allies hold deep-seated xenophobic views, and therefore what we saw was their members playing out these views in practice. Alternatively, the political hegemony of the ANC and its allies is based on the political demobilisation of the working class. And so while the mass of the township residents vote for the ANC and support its allies, their political opinions are no longer formed through the political views of the ANC as an organisation. While xenophobic views have seeped into the leading layers of the Congress alliance, the primary explanation for the growth of these views within the working class lies in the political and organisational demobilisation of the working class that has been underway since 1994, if not since 1990.

The daily political work of the ANC and its allies in townships consists in the fight of its small active core for business opportunities, government tenders, positions in the local state, patronage and careerism at various levels. So bad is this state of affairs that in the run-up to the ANC’s 2007 national congress in Polokwane the then secretary-general of the ANC Kgalema Motlhanthe saw fit to argue that the struggles between various factions in the ANC had no political or ideological basis, but were rather struggles for control of resources at various levels of the state.

The branches of the ANC, in other words, are not organs expressing the needs and political aspirations of the ordinary township resident. To the extent, therefore, that ANC branches’ main preoccupation is the politics of self-enrichment and patronage, the ANC and its allies’ hegemony is grounded on the political and organisational demobilisation of the working class in South Africa’s townships. The political strength of the ANC with its neoliberal economic and political orientation is therefore a combination of three circumstances: its historical role as leader of the liberation struggle; the fact that all the opposition parties in parliament are located on the right of the ANC and are therefore unable to attract any support from the working class that still has memories of the struggle against apartheid; and the political and organisational demobilisation of the working class including the weakness of left currents within it.

Of the various members of the Congress alliance, COSATU probably retains some measure of being ``left’’ in the eyes of (a diminishing section of) the public, and among some left groups. Not only has COSATU failed to undertake any political and organisational work around a problem that has been developing within the working class over the last few years, but we see in COSATU an instance where xenophobic views seep into a leading organisation of the working class, even though such views come packaged in the traditional rhetoric of being anti-employer, anti-capitalist and so on. In its May 28 (2008) Central Eexecutive Committee statement COSATU loses all sense of working-class internationalism. While the rhetoric remains, both COSATU’s analysis of the outbreak of xenophobia, and the solutions it proposes, have an undertone of national chauvinism and xenophobia.

While it is not the intention of this article to engage in an extended analysis of COSATU’s views and responses to xenophobia over a long period, one example will suffice: COSATU blames employers for “employing foreign immigrants, especially the illegal ones”, and calls on ``employers to stop taking advantage of the desperate situation of foreign nationals”. No mention of the need to organise the workers (especially the “illegal ones”!) into unions, but rather a call on employers to fire “the illegal ones”! In every aspect of its CEC statement following the xenophobic violence, COSATU has remained true to its “proudly South African” perspective – a perspective that is as (national) chauvinistic as it is xenophobic.

SANCO, on the other hand, has in some cases dispensed with the rhetoric and speaks in openly xenophobic terms about ``immigrants’’ stealing RDP houses [cheap houses built under the Redistribution and Development Program]. In many cases of attacks, as in Alex for example, ANC councillors deflected the pressure of demands for more and better housing onto ``immigrants’’. Local councillors are notorious for soliciting and accepting bribes for houses – from both South Africans and non-citizens. Activists from townships affected by the outbreaks have noted the xenophobic role played by councillors when confronted about the corruption in the allocation of RDP houses.

The political and organisational weaknesses of the new social movements

The process of the weakening of working-class organisations, which has been variously referred to as the ``weakening of civil society’’, has continued to deepen even with the rise of the ``new social movements’’ around 1998/9. The period between 1998/9 and 2002/3 saw the emergence of a number of new organisations taking up social and political issues. In particular, this period saw the emergence of the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), the Landless People’s Movement (LPM), Jubilee South Africa (JSA) and the Social Movements Indaba (SMI). In addition to these more high-profile movements, a host of other local organisations taking up ``social delivery’’ struggles also emerged. Side by side with the emergence of these new organisations, various working-class communities also engaged in struggles against lack of basic services in their communities, even though these did not always lead to the formation of organisations.

While the struggles waged by various communities around social delivery have continued to increase in number and in some cases to grow in intensity, the organised formations that have emerged out of the 1998 to 2003 period have gone into decline. Together with other comrades, in a number of interventions over the last few years, I have analysed this process of decline of the new social movements, its sources and its dynamics [see for example my paper published in the Khanya Journal, issue no. 11 – “The new social movements, COSATU and the ‘new UDF’’’].

The outbreak of xenophobic violence in communities in which the new movements are active, in particular Alex, Bophelong and Katlehong among others, revealed the lack of implantation of the new movements in these communities. On the other hand, the absence of any of the new movements in other communities in which there were outbreaks reinforced the same point: the new movements are both politically and organisationally weak, and were thus unable to act as a counterweight to the organisational and political demobilisation of the working class that has been spearheaded by the Congress alliance.

The xenophobia attacks and strategic political questions facing the new movements

The outbreak of xenophobia in various working-class communities raises important political questions for the new social movements. In particular, these events raise three fundamental political questions:

  1. How do the new social movements understand the sources of this outbreak?

  2. What political attitude should the new movements take to the presence of Africans who are not citizens of South Africa?, and

  3. What political demands and strategic slogans should the movements adopt in the struggle against the outbreaks of xenophobia?

i. How do the new social movements understand the sources of the xenophobia outbreak?

In the memorandum delivered by the Coalition Against Xenophobia (CAX) on the May 24, 2008, the new social movements identified neoliberalism, and in particular the policies of the ANC government, as the basic source of the xenophobia outbreak. As the memorandum argues, “those who have openly attacked others have claimed that South Africans are being denied access to scarce jobs, basic services, and better lives because of the need to compete with people from other African countries for limited resources”. The memorandum goes on to counter this view and argues that the “poverty and unemployment are … a result of the neoliberal macro-economic policies that all African countries have adopted”. This position, in its basic outline and with more direct reference to the GEAR policies [GEAR is the acronym of the ANC’s neoliberal austerity macroeconomic policy] of the South African government in particular, was adopted in the press statement issued by the APF and its Alex affiliate, the Alexandra Vukuzenzele Crisis Committee on May 13.

The position adopted by the movements is shared by many: it is now commonly accepted that xenophobia represents a form of ``competition for resources’’ between South African and non-South African sections of the working class, even though it is argued that this perception on the part of the South African working class is ``misguided’’ and ``untrue’’. The basic problem with this position is that it assumes a direct connection between the presence of immigrants living and working in poor townships and the violent xenophobia outbreak. As an analysis of the xenophobia outbreak this position in fact ends its analysis where it should begin the task of analysis.

The key question for the movements and other progressives is the following: in a context of falling living standards and rising poverty within the working class, why does the South African working class’ response to these conditions take the form of xenophobia. Why for example, have we not seen the outbreak of so-called ``food riots’’, riots against fuel increases and in general riots against neoliberalism and its effects?

This task of analysis needs to be undertaken in its own right, and it needs to engage the many standpoints on the xenophobia outbreak adopted in the public debate. For the purposes of this article it is important to note that in all the practical accounts of the outbreak in various townships a number of social actors make their appearance over and over again. These are: the local businesspeople, local councillors (ANC as well as other parties), SANCO functionaries and members of the Community Policing Forums (CPF). All these actors and institutions share a common class basis – the petty bourgeoisie of the townships. As I argued earlier, all that the ANC at the local level has become is to be an organ for organising the self-enrichment by the petty bourgeoisie of the townships. It is the specific response of these strata of the population to the specific economic crisis that has taken the form of agitation for a xenophobic response. On the other hand, it is the political and organisational weakness of the formations of the working class that has made it possible for the petty bourgeoisie of the townships to define the way the response to the crisis has unfolded. There are a whole range of developments through which the hegemony of the xenophobic view of the world has gained ascendancy within the working class, and these need to be analysed. The fundamental point for me is that in our analysis of the xenophobia outbreak we need to put the political and organisational weaknesses of progressive and left currents within the working class at the centre of our analysis. We need to avoid ``structuralist’’ explanations that imply an automatic transmission belt from poverty, the presence of immigrants in townships, to xenophobic attitudes, and to a violent xenophobic outbreak. We need to ground our analysis in a class analysis of society and its social dynamics.

In the case of COSATU and many others who have adopted this line of analysis, these structuralist explanations have led to national chauvinistic and xenophobic responses to the outbreak. From identifying the mere presence of immigrants and poverty side by side, a political position that seeks to ``treat them humanely’’ but to send ``them’’ ``back’’, to police ``our’’ borders more ``efficiently’’, to put ``them’’ into camps, to ensure that the countries from which these ``economic refugees’’ come are fixed so that they do not have to come to South Africa, and so on and so on.

To their major credit, while sharing the errors of analysis of the structuralists, the social movements’ political instincts have prevented them from falling into the political slide of COSATU and right-wing analysts. By holding on to a perspective that “no one is illegal”, the social movements provide a way out of the crisis that is truly internationalist, and that is morally defensible in the eyes of the world.

ii. What political attitude should the new movements take to the presence of Africans who are not citizens of SA?

By arguing that “no one is illegal” the social movements and other left currents in the country have taken a bold and brave political attitude. Within the social movements we need to clarify among ourselves the social, economic, political and cultural basis of this position.

In its CEC statement dealing with the outbreak, COSATU, with characteristic left-sounding rhetoric, argued that “had the government decisively intervened some ten years ago when it became clear that the Zimbabwe situation was deteriorating, the Zimbabweans would not have found it necessary to leave their country in droves”. For the different countries different reasons will be found, but the central argument of COSATU and others is that the immigrant should not be here in South Africa, and that the South African state needs to do something to ensure that they stay at home. Without immigrants in South Africa, so the logic goes, we would not have xenophobia.

Immigration into South Africa will not be stopped by some action that will or can be undertaken by the South African state. On the contrary, it is the actions of the South African state that ensure that immigration into South Africa will continue with or without the Zimbabwean crisis. As an agent of South African capital, the South African state is responsible for policies that undermine African economies, it is responsible for policies that extract wealth from Africa into South Africa, and it is responsible for policies that are concentrating the capital of the continent – both human and financial – into South Africa. As sure as day follows night, the movement of people will always follow the movement of capital. The direction of migration in the Africa continent will be towards South Africa, and can only be changed once South Africa loses its position of hegemony on the continent. African ``immigrants’’ are therefore here to stay, and no amount of ostrich politics on the part of COSATU will change this. Any progressive political policy must be based on the fact that working-class people from other countries in Africa are now a permanent feature of South African life and its future.

Second, all the commentators and organisations who argue for keeping fellow Africans out of South Africa are – wittingly or unwittingly – acting as slaves and retainers of capital. We all know that while these people make up all sorts of educated arguments to keep working-class Africans out of the country, capital has no restrictions in its movement across borders. Further, the same people will openly accept so-called skilled ``immigrants’’ from African countries.

Third, given the role of South African capital on the continent, given the free movement of capital, the capitalist, and the upper middle classes across borders, it is not possible to speak of a ``South African’’ economy without acknowledging its regional and continental character. Not only has this been true for South Africa for more than a hundred years, but this integration of the regional economies into the South African economy, and the transformation of the regional markets into South African markets, has accelerated since 1994.

Fourth, by undermining the economies of Africa and of the region, by integrating them into the economy of South Africa, South African capital thereby transforms the entire working class of the region into an industrial reserve army – a pool of labour from which South African capital can draw as and when it wishes.For South African trade unions it is therefore shortsighted to think that they can resolve the downward pressure on South African wages exerted by this industrial reserve army by locking the working class of the region outside the borders of South Africa. In a globalising world, in a world of mobile capital, capital will relocate in search of relatively more exploitable labour. Indeed, notwithstanding all the arrogance and pretensions of COSATU, viewed from the vantage point of the global economy, the South African working class is itself part of a global industrial reserve army, and can therefore be seen as exerting a downward pressure on working class wages in the northern hemisphere. The South African state understands this, and in fact trades on this when it ``attracts’’ foreign capital into South Africa.

Fifth, an impression is created that the working class in the region competes with the local working class, and thus by coming to South Africa is responsible for declining services and lower wages. This is the view of COSATU and some commentators. The fact of the matter, however, is that the primary source of declining services and downward pressure on wages comes from the mobility of capital, its ability to relocate to other countries. It is this pressure that acts as a disciplining force, that ensures that the South African states sticks to its GEAR policy, that ensures that the South African state dare not raise the taxes on corporations to fund service delivery, and that ensures that the South African Reserve Bank is the most energetic proponent of low wages in South Africa. By blaming working-class people from other parts of the continent COSATU and its like-thinking intellectuals merely act as a cover for capital, and as capital’s retainers.

Fellow African working-class people from other parts of Africa are therefore not only here to stay, but they have as much right to the wealth of ``South Africa’’ as workers who are South African citizens. They are as much producers of this wealth as are workers who are South African citizens. Our fellow Africans can in no way be accused, except by bigots, racists and xenophobes, of being the cause of ``economic competition’’, of the impoverishment of the South African working class.

For the South African social movements the position that was presented in the memorandum on the May 24, 2008 – “No one is illegal!” – becomes, against the background of the arguments presented above, profound, truly internationalist and revolutionary. Its logical conclusion is a political platform that does not comprise with imperialism, racism, bigotry and xenophobia.

iii. What political demands and strategic slogans should the movement adopt in the struggle against xenophobia?

“For open borders!” “No one is illegal!” These strategic slogans are the only politically consistent and morally defensible demands that the new social movements can adopt in the struggle against xenophobia. Let us look at these strategic slogans more closely.

On strategic slogans and demands

Before we can examine the political meaning of these slogans, a word needs to be said about strategic slogans or demands in general. Strategic slogans represent the demand or demands that come out of a whole line of analysis, and these particular demands must be able to articulate with and feed into a whole set of subsidiary demands. For example, the strategic slogan in many antiwar movements is ``Troops out!’’ This slogan is a demand that brings together a whole analysis of imperialism; the rights of nations to self-determination; an analysis of how the costs of wars are devolved onto local populations back ``home’’ and so on. In this sense of strategic slogans, the memorandum of the social movement on May 24 does not articulate any strategic slogans[1]. More importantly, however, is the fact that the memorandum is unable to organise its demands in a way that shows an appreciation of the need to create a political platform that can be used to guide the movement’s approach when it deals with various immediate and concrete situations. Thus, the slogan of ``no one is illegal’’ is raised in a context of calls to “suspend and revisit existing policies relating to immigration, in particular those regarding the definition and treatment of refugees, both political and economic – no one is illegal!”

The political confusion in the memorandum is clear. If no one is illegal, then the ``definition and treatment of refugee’’ does not even arise. After all, the definition of refugee takes place in law, and will by definition render one or other person ``illegal’’ to the extent that they do not satisfy the strictures of the ``new’’ definition. The drafters of the memorandum were themselves not conscious of the profound political implications of their call that “No one is illegal!” - they were not conscious that they were moving outside of the juridical categories of the bourgeois state.

Second, strategic slogans need to be grounded in, and to deal, with the immediate political conjuncture. There is a tendency in our movements to present slogans or demands that are of such general application that they apply to any and all political conjunctures and situations. For example, the demand in the memorandum that the government must “suspend the neoliberal macro-economic policy approach, and instead provide access for all who live in South Africa…” can be advanced just about all the time. It has no concreteness or specificity, and it fails to present our movement to the public as a movement that deals with concrete situations. All that the public hears is the same demand no matter what the situation is. From a theoretical point of view, this tendency of demanding ``socialism’’ is a case of confusing strategic or tactical slogans with one’s analysis. In our analysis we have to position all our struggles within a consistent analysis of neoliberalism, of GEAR and of its effects on the working class. This is necessary in order to ensure that as we intervene around different issues and in different terrains of struggles we are able to ensure political consistency. But for each of the issues (housing, water, xenophobia and so on) we have to arrive at concrete strategic slogans or demands, and these must arise out of the concrete nature of the issue that we are dealing with – in other words they must be specific.

The strategic slogan of “open borders!” satisfies the concept of strategic slogans used in this sense. In our discussion above we see how the call for “open borders” is a logical outcome of a whole line of analysis beginning with how the movements should understand the sources of the outbreak, and moving on to what attitude we must adopt to the presence of fellow Africans from other countries in Africa.

In the discussion that follows I will not discuss a range of immediate demands that the movements and others have made, and that need to be taken up. What concerns me here is to develop the logic of the key strategic slogan of open borders, to clarify its meaning, and to defend it against its detractors.

Is a position of ‘open borders’ an impossible one that can only bring chaos and collapse?

Visions of political chaos and economic collapse that will follow the ``floods’’ of Africans into South Africa have been conjured up in order to frighten the people of South Africa into agreeing to xenophobic and racist solutions to dealing with brutal socioeconomic policies. Indeed, for a long time South Africa’s commercial press has created an image of Africans from other parts of the continent that brings up images of disease, theft, murder, rape and even potholes and broken windows in shops and houses across the length and breath of the country. Against this background as social movements we have to confront these visions, arm ourselves to educate our class and our people.

First, we need to be clear that for certain social classes a position of “open borders” already exists. We know that capital, capitalists and the upper middle classes already enjoy-- legally and/or in practice -- a policy of open borders. South African capital can invest freely in the continent, it can repatriate ``its’’ profits back into South Africa freely, and can move and relocate its staff and other assets just as freely. We also know that the upper middle classes, who now travel rather frequently to countries all over Africa, can move freely into these countries.Indeed, increasingly South Africans do not need visas to travel into many African countries, and it is a specific project of the Department of Foreign Affairs to facilitate smooth travel and access by South African citizens (read capitalists and the upper middle classes) into Africa.

Further, the South African working class, when it does travel into other countries, also enjoys the “conquests” of ``its’’ capitalist class and does not need visas to enter these countries. The social movements of South Africa were beneficiaries of the open borders that South Africans enjoy when they attended the World Social Forum in Nairobi in 2007. Many of us cannot imagine what a nightmare it would have been from a logistical point of view if all the 200 plus activists – some of whom had not travelled before – needed visas to enter Kenya!

On the other hand, many of the middle classes of Africa, the so-called skilled people, also enjoy if not an open border policy, then certainly something that is very close to an open border policy. Many of us in South Africa bemoan the terrible state of the country’s education. Little do we realise that the flip side of the bad education coin is that the South African state and ruling class is viewing African as its recruiting ground for the skilled labour. And so the Department of Home Affairs is under constant pressure to streamline and liberalise its administrative procedures for this category of workers.

We all know that we do not even need to discuss the open borders enjoyed by the people with white skins – from all classes -- who come from Europe and North America.

And so it turns out that the only people who are excluded from the “open borders” policy is the working class of African countries. Not only is the working class of these African countries exploited by South African capital, not only do they produce South Africa’s wealth, but they are not good enough to grace the hallowed streets of South Africa’s cities. In addition to it being a case of class prejudice, for a country with South Africa’s history it also has undertones of racism[2].

Has a policy of open borders been practiced anywhere?

If one were to listen to the army of rather hysterical ``analysts’’ and ``commentators’’ one would think that there are no countries or groups of countries that practice a policy of open borders. In fact, while having their own governments and even their own national identity, the countries of the European Union (EU) practice a policy of open borders among themselves. Citizens of each of the 25 countries, while having to carry their passports when going into the other countries, do not need visas and can move freely within the EU.

Does a policy of open borders mean all the countries must have the same level of economic development?

Another way of putting this question is whether a policy of open borders implies a policy of (so-called) economic “convergence”? Won’t all the citizens of Zimbabwe, for example, start streaming across the border to come to economically developed South Africa?The reality of the matter is that the countries of the EU that are less developed have not become depopulated as a result a policy of open borders.

Or to bring it closer home, there are still people living in the Eastern Cape and in Limpopo [provinces] notwithstanding the fact that these provinces are in many ways much poorer than Gauteng, and the people there enjoy a lower standard of living than those in Gauteng. Therefore, if we leave aside the fear of the dark Africa, of the ``horde’’ of Africans coming to defile our lily-white suburbs (with a few lily-white blacks), then we have no basis to believe that the Zimbabweans will behave in any manner that is different to the people of the Eastern Cape. There will be some people – invariably always a minority – that will move and migrate. In a regime of open borders we will see more and more South Africans also move across borders, first to visit, make friends and even marry (!), and then settle.

A policy of open borders therefore does not need to imply economic convergence, although it may facilitate and encourage such convergence.

What are the political implications of this policy for the role of the South African state in the region?

Probably the thing that terrifies capital, its state, its party (the ANC) and its band of retainers (the many intellectuals that justify capital’s existence) the most is that a policy of open borders means the South African state can no longer easily treat Africa, and in particular Southern Africa, as a place to extract wealth. Certainly, South Africa will for some time to come continue to be the economic centre of the region, but an open borders policy will constitute the first step towards recognising the fact that other African nationals have a claim on the wealth that is now concentrated in Johannesburg. In other words, a policy like this will constitute the first step towards ensuring that the destiny of South Africa is much more closely tied to the destiny of the countries of the region, and further on of the continent.

It is equally clear, though, that a policy of open borders, on its own, does not imply that there will be no GEAR, no neoliberalism or no South African economic hegemony. The strategic slogan of open borders aims to deal with the issue of xenophobia in a globalising social and economic environment by creating the basis for solidarity of the dominated classes across borders. But it only creates the basis: the real struggle to overcome xenophobia within the working class, and to therefore strengthen the struggle against neoliberalism, is to build the organisations of the working class. In particular, we will only take the giant step on this road when we have large numbers of non-citizens who become active members of our social movements.

What are the implications of this perspective for the struggle to build an anti-globalisation movement at a regional level?

The adoption of a strategic slogan of ``open borders’’ by the social movements in South Africa will be a great boost to the struggle for a regional anti-globalisation movement. This is not only because it is necessary for the South African movements to restore their credibly as comrades in arms in the army of the working class in the region, but also because it allows us to begin putting together a perspective that we can use to engage other movements in the region. South Africa is not the only country that suffers from xenophobia, or from the presence of immigrant communities in the midst of local communities. To varying degrees all the countries of the region face similar problems. A perspective of ``open borders’’ may provide a strategic slogan that unites our struggles on this front across the entire region.

Against this background, we have to register the profound disappointment with the Coalition Against Xenophobia that at this late stage in the development of the struggle against xenophobia it has not engaged our sister movements on continent.

A long-term positive spin-off of the open border perspective is that over time we will create a regional activist cadre this will see its commitment to struggle in regional and continental terms, and that will be knowledgeable about the conditions of struggle in a number of countries[3].

The xenophobia attacks and the strategic organisational questions facing the social movements

I have argued that the political and organisational demobilisation of the working class since at least 1994 forms a key element in how we should understand the recent xenophobia outbreak. Deepening the organisation of the social movements, and with it their ability to organise and intervene around developments such as the xenophobia outbreak, is a key strategic task facing the social movements.

Only the working class can liberate itself

Overcoming these political and organisational weaknesses can however only be undertaken by the working class itself. The principle of the self-emancipation of the working class has been central to the way the working-class movement has approached the struggle for social justice for more than 150 years. We would therefore presume that this principle, especially for a trade union, should be as elementary to its thought as the air we breathe.

After COSATU’s CEC statement on the xenophobia outbreak, however, it has become necessary to again assert this principle. Throughout the CEC statement COSATU makes calls to capital and to the state in its various manifestations. Employers must donate money, the government must “decisively intervene” in Zimbabwe, the Department of Home Affairs must “control immigration efficiently and humanely”. Indunas are also implored not to act on behalf of “certain political parties” and so on.

And what role is COSATU meant to play in all this? COSATU will hold meetings (shopsteward councils) to “argue that the working class must not turn its guns against itself”. And if, as COSATU argues, the ``unscrupulous employers’’ are restructuring the labour market outside the legal framework by employing “a pool of workers who are not members of the unions”, what is the federation going to do to correct this situation? Well, again COSATU calls on employers to “stop taking advantage of the desperate situation of foreign nationals”. And how will employers rectify this existing situation? Only by firing the foreign nationals already in their employ will the employers “stop taking advantage of the foreign nationals”.

We have here a classic example of a workers’ organisation asking the capitalist class – which is in the business of exploiting workers – to dismiss workers. This is unlike unions in other parts of the world, which are engaged in the difficult task of organising undocumented immigrant workers, and therefore ensuring that in words and deed they are “creatures that only survive on unity and international solidarity”. For COSATU international solidarity clearly applies only when the worker from Zimbabwe stays put in Zimbabwe – the minute they cross the border COSATU asks the employers to fire them. Here we have a classic case of the abandonment of the fundamental principle that only the working class can liberate itself.

As we seek to overcome the political and organisational weaknesses of the working class, as we seek to struggle to overcome the xenophobia within the working class, and as we seek to struggle to rollback the forces of reaction that promote xenophobia and racism, we need to hold on to this fundamental principle of working class organisation.

Is it possible to organise immigrant communities and workers?

The principle of the self-emancipation of the working class, when raised in the context of organising immigrant communities, confronts us with the fundamental question of whether is it possible to organise immigrant workers or communities. Again, we have to ask this fundamental yet mundane question because the country’s largest labour federation has adopted a position and actions that argue that its not possible to organise immigrant workers. According to COSATU’s CEC statement on the xenophobia outbreak, “the illegal immigrants have no recourse whatsoever, as they believe reporting any abuse to the SAPS and the CCMA will lead them to being deported back to their countries”.

Why is reporting to the organisations of the working class no recourse? Why is it that COSATU, this “most advanced detachment of the working class” (CEC statement), does not present itself as recourse? Either COSATU does not want to organise immigrant workers, or COSATU thinks its impossible to organise immigrant workers. In fact, the reason why COSATU does not offer itself as a shield is that it does not want to organise immigrant workers, and to justify this dereliction of its working-class duty it has to create a ``theory’’ of the impossibility of organising immigrant workers.

We do know, however, that by its very nature capitalism creates different strata of the working class with different characteristics and temperaments. In South Africa itself, we have experience of how in the early years of the formation of the modern trade union movement and the mass movement migrant workers were particularly difficult to organise. We have the experience of how failure to understand this, especially among the school-going youth, led to violent outbreaks between urbanised sections of the working class and the migrant sections of the same class. No one, except agents of the apartheid state and capital, argued that it was impossible to organise the migrants, that the migrants “had no recourse whatsoever”. And this notwithstanding the fact that the migrants workers always faced the prospects (and actually suffered the reality) of losing their jobs and being deported to the so-called homelands. Who can forget how miners on South African mines were periodically deported en mass to the homelands and to neighbouring countries when the mine bosses tried to break union organising and strikes on the mines? Who can forget the determination and resilience of the migrant workers on the mines to belong to militant unions in the face of this attack by the bosses? And who can forget that these miners were both of South African and non-South African origin[4]?

Has organising immigrant workers become any more impossible or any more difficult with the advent of globalisation and the vulnerabilities of workers and communities it has brought in its wake? The answer has to be an emphatic no! New challenges in organising immigrant workers and communities, yes! The impossibility of organising these communities and workers, no!

If immigrant workers and immigrants in South Africa have not joined local trade unions we need to ask why is that the case? We need to answer this question, and not create theories that say immigrant communities have “no recourse whatsoever”.

What is the experience of organising immigrant communities and workers in South Africa?

The experience of organising immigrant communities in South Africa is a relatively new one. In fact, there is almost no experience of organising undocumented workers by South African trade unions. In general, South African trade unions have watched anti-immigrant attitudes develop among their members and have done very little to combat this. Over a long period the unions, in particular COSATU, have adopted anti-immigrant worker positions.

On the other hand, over the last few years there have been attempts by the new social movements to either organise immigrant communities or to develop links with organisations that have emerged within immigrant communities. The sources of these organising initiatives, or of the impulse to organise among the immigrant communities, have been three-fold:

i. Participation in the anti-globalisation movement and ideological sensitisation

At a relatively early phase of their development the South African social movements linked up with the international anti-globalisation movement through the World Social Forum processes. In particular, the participation of the new social movements in the Southern African Social Forum has exposed the movements to the region, and sensitised them to issues relating to the presence of immigrant communities in South Africa.

While the participation of the social movements in the international anti-globalisation movement did not always lead to direct action or campaigns around issues affecting immigrant communities, it did provide a basis for a certain measure of ideological sensitisation to immigrant issues. In the course of their participation in these anti-globalisation initiatives, three practical initiatives that were important in sensitising the movements to regional issues were the mobilisations and the march during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002, the fact-finding mission of the Social Movements Indaba to Zimbabwe in 2005 and the participation in the WSF encounter in Nairobi in 2007.

These political interventions, ensured that the political orientation of the new social movements would be progressive and internationalist. The interventions prevented the movements from going the way of COSATU – the way of national chauvinism and thinly veiled xenophobia. This is not to say that individual members of the movements do not harbour xenophobic views. On the contrary. But the organisations themselves have maintained consistently internationalist positions and political attitudes. Of the membership-based organisations in South Africa only the new social movements can walk with their heads high in the aftermath of the outpouring of xenophobic attitudes among South African citizens.

ii. Initiatives to organise immigrant communities or to link up with their organisations

In addition to participation in the social forum processes, the new social movements have been involved in various attempts to either organise or to link up with organisations of immigrant communities. In Johannesburg, one of the APF affiliates, the (Johannesburg) Inner City Forum took up issues affecting immigrant communities, though in a limited manner. More important has been attempts by the APF to link up with organisations of immigrant workers. In 2006, the Ubuntu International Forum was formed. The UIF brought together organisations of immigrant workers and mainly APF affiliates in Johannesburg to take up issues affecting immigrant communities. With the assistance of KhanyaCollege, the UIF published a newsletter, ran workshops on xenophobia and undertook programs to sensitise the public about issues affecting immigrant communities.

iii. The role of support organisations working with the new social movements

An important role in the development of work with and among immigrant communities over the last few years has been played by support organisations or NGOs working with social movements[5]. In particular, the work of Khanya College, an NGO based in Johannesburg, has been instrumental in the development of anti-xenophobia consciousness within the new movements, and in facilitating practical work by the new social movements on the issue of xenophobia. In particular, Khanya College has been instrumental in facilitating the participation of the new movements in the various Southern Africa Social Forum annual events from 2005 onwards.

More importantly, Khanya College has hosted an annual Winter School, which since 2003 has brought together activists from South and Southern Africa together. In particular, the 2003 Winter School focused on the struggle against xenophobia. The Khanya Journal – which is read by activists across South Africa and to a lesser extent in Southern Africa, has been an anti-xenophobia consciousness-raising platform in the social movements since its launch in 2002.

By 2005 Khanya set up a program dedicated to raising consciousness and facilitating the struggle against xenophobia. It was this program that facilitated the formation of the UIF, and it was this program that published a quarterly newsletter, Karibu, which dealt with issues confronting immigrant communities in Johannesburg. In 2007, Khanya College conducted research into anti-xenophobia work and attitudes in the APF, and this report is important in our present engagement around the challenges of organising immigrant communities in South Africa.

How should the social movements approach the question of organising immigrant communities in South Africa?

While the principle of self-emancipation is well recognised in the Khanya-APF report[6] on organising immigrant communities, the approach adopted in the report is that of, on the one hand, supporting the formation and strengthening of the organisations of immigrant communities, and on the other hand of strengthening the links between these organisations and the social movements. These links extend to joint campaigns on for example the struggle to close the notorious Lindela transit [detention] camp for refugees. Following Michel Wucker[7], the report argues that “the fundamental principle for any organisation that seeks to pledge solidarity with immigrants [is] to recognise immigrants themselves as social agents that must be a primary driving force in their own struggle for dignity”. From this important principle the report takes a leap, or maybe unconsciously slides into an assumption that this principle implies that immigrants must be organised in separate organisations. This approach, that of organising in separate organisations, is fairly widespread among the members of the APF – with the notable exception of one activist interviewed in the report.

There are however a number of fundamental problems with this approach to organisation.

First, the danger of this model of organising is that it has by definition to be based on the assumption that immigrant communities are necessarily temporary migrants and that they will return to their country of birth. This clearly need not be the case, and in South Africa we know of many immigrants who have been in South Africa for more than a decade. There is therefore no a priori reason whey we should assume that they will go back to their countries of birth.

Second, if, as the report and the social movements’ platform of May 24 recognise, working-class immigrant communities face the same basic problems as other working-class people in South Africa (mainly service delivery issues), there can therefore be no special solutions for this section of the working class as far as these issues are concerned.

Third, the approach of separate organisations for immigrant communities runs the danger of reinforcing the notion that they are ``different’’ from South Africans, and may therefore have the consequence of reproducing a social basis for the persistence of xenophobic attitudes in working-class communities.

Fourth, this approach is not consistent with a perspective of a unified regional working class confronting regional problems of globalisation and integration. It is not consistent with a perspective of open borders that we have argued should be the strategic demand in our struggle against xenophobia. In a perspective of open borders the working class of the region, of Africa and ultimately of the whole world is viewed as a common association of producers, and therefore wherever a particular workers or person is they are at home, they are members of the same community. Only a perspective like this overcomes the danger of fuelling xenophobic attitude.

Indeed, in her perspective quoted in the Khanya-APF report, Michel Wucker argues that “the response of many immigrants [to their conditions in the US] has been creative, even inspiring. Despite their lack of the franchise, many immigrants have been adopting classic models of civic participation and inventing new ways of being heard. In the workplace, immigrants are turning to unions, and vice versa [that is unions are turning to immigrants]. Many immigrants’ groups are also joining get-out-the-vote and registration campaigns, and often helping to mobilise support for candidates even if they can’t vote themselves. Many remain politically active in their own countries.”

A number of issues come out of this observation about immigrant organising in the US. In workplaces it would be an inconceivable approach for immigrants to organise their own unions, as this would break the unity of the working class. There is therefore no reason why a separate organisations approach should be acceptable or deemed workable in the community. If immigrants can join unions, and they are increasingly doing in many other countries, then it should be possible for them to join the same community organisations as South African citizens.

What is more important from Wucker’s observations is that there is no contradiction between immigrants and local nationals belonging to the same organisations on the one hand, and the principle that immigrants have to be the primary social agents in the struggles that affect their lives.

In the Khanya-APF report only a single voice, that of Thabo Modisane, argued for a perspective of a single organisation for immigrants and locals. According to the report, Modisane “recommended that the APF develop a campaign aimed at recruiting immigrants into the APF and its affiliates. He also suggested that the co-existence of immigrants together with local APF members [in the same organisation] can enrich the APF and its campaigns... It will also ensure that the APF and its structures become sensitive to issues confronting the most vulnerable groups such as immigrants… As part of a recruitment drive, the APF will also have to examine a possibility of creating a caucus or a platform of immigrant members as part of its constitutional development. Such an initiative will help in ensuring that the perspective of immigrants is not lost in the organisation. Formal structures of the APF such as the extended office bearers, the executive committee, and the coordinating committee can be used as a space for listening to the voices of members of the APF who are also immigrants.”

This perspective of Thabo Modisane sums up an approach to organising immigrant communities and workers that is consistent with the perspective of open borders; it is a perspective that is consistent with the approaches of the democratic socialist and social justice movement that have developed over more than a hundred years. Modisane’s perspectives go further: they introduce key ideas about tactical organisational questions in the organising of immigrant communities, and it is to these issues that we now turn.

The organisation of immigrant communities and tactical organisational questions facing the movements

Earlier on we remarked that capitalism, by its very nature, creates different strata of the working class and these strata have different political and organisational temperaments and traditions. These strata can be within countries, or between different countries. The working class of Kenya has ``its own ways of doing things’’, it has different traditions of struggle. In their turn, these traditions are a product of how the particular working class was formed by capitalism, and the struggles it has had to wage in the process of its formation. In South Africa we have a lot of experience of organising within the working class, but it is equally important for us to realise that we have no self-conscious theory of organising the working class.

This is a remarkable development – this abundance of practice side by side with almost no theory of organising. In part this contradiction is a product of the hegemony of nationalist politics in the liberation movement, and the dominance of the petty bourgeoisie (and its Stalinist theoreticians) in the formulation of the theoretical priorities of the mass movement. If we leave aside the need to theorise this lack of theory – a task that belongs to another occasion – the important point here is that because we did not develop and accumulate a theory of organising out of our practical experience of organising immigrant and migrant workers in the past (on the mines), we will find it difficult to transfer that experience to help us deal with the new challenges of organising immigrant communities.

Given this situation, as activists in the social movements we have to create a space for us to think through and theorise the tasks and approaches of organising immigrant workers and communities in the present period. Our theory and tactical skills in this area of struggle will therefore emerge and evolve in the course of the practice of organising. There can be no blueprint that maps out the road we are going to travel in the struggle to organise immigrant communities and workers. Notwithstanding this coming period of trial and error, and more importantly of accumulating the strategic and tactical experience of organising, there are a number of pointers that we can highlight on the road ahead.

Some tactical issues in organising immigrant communities

1. The fact that we argue for a single organisation for South African and non-South African citizens does not mean that special approaches must not be developed in order to organise immigrant communities and workers.There are two reasons why we need to develop special strategies to bring immigrant workers and communities into our organisations.

i. Against the background of the recent xenophobia outbreak social movements need to win the confidence of immigrant workers and communites, and convince them that they will go beyond mere words and slogans in defending them against violent xenophobes in the community. This is a difficult task not only from the vantage point of convincing the immigrant communities, but also from the vantage point of developing the capacity of our organisations to defend the immigrant communities.

ii. As already mentioned, many of the members of immigrant communities come from countries with different political traditions from those of South Africa. It is therefore important that we recognise this, and that we do not assume that the method of the ``toyi-toyi’’ is a one-size fits all method of organising. In important ways, we must come to terms with the fact that the tendency for social movements to imagine that the only method of struggle is a march constitutes a failure of political and strategic imagination. Even with respect to South African communities, we need to acknowledge this problem and begin to deal with it.

2. We need to realise that ``making a call’’ is not the same as organising. Even in South African communities, the social movements have not developed self-conscious methods and traditions of organising. Indeed, most of our organising in the movements is not only restricted to the march (for which we make a ``call’’), but we are not aware why we sometimes succeed notwithstanding the fact that we organise poorly and without imagination. Organising is not the same thing as staging spectacles. Over the last few years we have tended to confuse the two things, and as I result we lack organising skills and experience.

3. If organising in general requires a lot of patience, then organising immigrant communities and workers will demand absolutely huge amounts of patience. But when ``patience’’ is declared to be a ``method’’ of organising, there is a real danger that our activists may fall to sleep on the job. Patience does not mean the absence of any measurable political and organisational result. What patience means is that our movements need to develop clear plans with clear methods of work, we need to specifically dedicate certain of our activists to these work, and these plans need to clearly state our political and organisational targets. Above all else, patience means avoiding any ``adventures’’ – that is activities and interventions that are poorly thought through and poorly prepared.

4. Before the xenophobia outbreaks we knew that our members in the social movements harboured xenophobic views and attitudes. In the Khanya-APF report various comrades state openly that our members have xenophobic views. In the report we also commit ourselves to engaging our members in education program that overcome these views. We need to put in place actual programs and timeframes of when this will be done. But more than education programs in general nothing will help us in this task more than having members who come from the immigrant communities. Until such as time as we have a critical mass of members from these communities, anti-xenophobia education will remain an abstraction – much in the same way as unions in South Africa have perfected the art of gender education without changing any underlying views on gender relations.

5. This brings us to the question of how to transform our organisations so that they reflect these urgent and important priorities – those of organising immigrant communities. In the discussion above we quoted the views of Modisane on how to rethink the nature of our organisations in order for us to rise to the challenge of organising immigrant communities. His ideas of a single organisation combined with the existence of ``platforms’’ needs to be debated in the movement and the various organisations that form it. We have to discover ways of structuring our organisations in ways that will make the new members feel at home, and that will allow us the elasticity to deal with the different tempos of struggle that are implied by serious organising of immigrant communities.

6. Earlier on we argued that the issues facing the South African working class are the same issues that face immigrant communities. While different sections of the working class face the same issues, they intersect with these issues in different ways. This is because of the way capitalism locates the different sections of the working class in different ways in the social formation. In other words, this means that each section of the working class has its own special way of feeling the effects of capitalism, it has special issues that may not affect other sections of the working class, or may affect these sections differently. It would therefore be an error on our part to proceed as if immigrant communities do not face the xenophobia of the state in its various manifestations, that they do not face the xenophobia of fellow members of the working class, and that they do not harbour suspicions about each other and about the intensions of their South African sisters and brothers. For this reason we need to take up, in our organisations, specific campaigns that affect these communities and workers. Further, in taking up the general campaigns of our movements (service delivery and the impact of neoliberalism in general), we need to always think about how these communities are affected in specific ways

7. In order for us to be able to engage immigrant communities and workers we need to free ourselves of unconscious (national) chauvinistic attitudes. The South African working class has in some ways assimilated the habit of its ruling class. Its ruling class thinks Africa is backward, that Africa needs to be civilised, that Africa is a failed continent with failed states and societies, that Africa is ``unsophisticated’’ and so on. These views of course form some of the basis of xenophobic attitudes. But more crucially for our discussion, these attitudes prevent us from learning any lessons from Africa. With South Africa’s accession to the status of a post-apartheid hegemonic power we now think we can’t learn anything from the struggles in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and so on. All we see now is one dark continent, which is being painted darker and darker every passing day by all types of learned professors and analysts.

We need to educate ourselves – as working-class activists – about popular struggles in Africa, about the victories of these struggles, about the failures and defeats suffered by our class sisters and brothers. We need to learn with clear heads and without the false sentimentality that has become the stock in trade of our ruling class and its intelligentsia. More importantly, we need to overcome the idea that only the South African struggle can yield any useful ideas.

In its small way the Khanya Journal’s ``Mbuya Nehanda’’ section attempts to do this, but it is clear that this is clearly inadequate. Much more work needs to be done.

What attitude should we take to existing organisations of immigrant communities?

A perspective of a single organisation for South African and non-South African nationals, once debated and agreed upon in the social movements, will have to deal with the fact that our recent and existing tradition of organising has been predominantly one of separate organisation. This is notwithstanding the fact that in a few instances there are APF affiliates who have members who are not South African nationals in their midst. Besides NGOs and church bodies who organise immigrant communities, there are organisations of immigrant communities which exist and which have links with the social movements. These organisations are presently linked through the Ubuntu International Forum and the Education Indaba Forum.

Even if we as the South African social movements agree on the perspective of a single organisation, we cannot issue an ultimatum for the immigrant organisations to dissolve and for their members to join the social movements. The process of building a single organisation – when viewed against the recent xenophobia outbreaks -- needs a long period of confidence building between the different communities and between the different organisations. This means that for a while the two models of organising will have to exist side by side.

Indeed, for a while it may be a strategy that we consciously adopt that members of immigrant communities have a kind of dual membership – they will belong to both South African organisations and to specific organisations of immigrant communities. We will thus be in the same organisations and we will have to link up in coalitions that bring our organisations together.


In this article we have argued that it is the political and organisational weaknesses of the working class and its formations that should inform our understanding of the xenophobia outbreak that we have seen over the last few weeks and months.

The campaign that social movements are waging, and should continue to wage, against xenophobia presents the movements with the opportunity to resolve the very weaknesses that made the outbreak possible. The weakness of organisation is an obstacle to struggle, and it opens the working class to the possibility of defeat. On the other hand, there is no other cure to this weakness than the struggle itself. All we need is determined, stubborn but patient struggle; all we need is resilience in the face of political and organisational difficulties. The recognition of our weaknesses as we go into this struggle only means that we struggle with energy and determination, but without illusions.

Lastly, 2008 will go down as the year in which the South African working class failed its sisters and brothers from the continent. The social movements have a responsibility to rise to the challenge that this failure has posed. It may be that the social movements can take a step toward restoring the dignity of the poor people of this country by hosting the next Southern Africa Social Forum in Johannesburg in 2009. Its most appropriate slogan well may be: Towards Open Borders!!

[Oupa Lehulere is an activists with KhanyaCollege (,an independent labour-service organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Established in 1986, the primary aim of KhanyaCollege is to assist various constituencies within working-class and poor communities to respond to the challenges posed by the forces of economic and political globalisation. This is one of several articles dealing with xenophobia that will appear in the next issue of the Khanya Journal (


[1]Indeed, the fact that a month after the march, and with the outbreak showing signs of abating the CAX is still locked in workshops to work out a platform is itself an indication of the deep political weaknesses of the social movements. When one considers that the march itself took place more than 10 days after the worst outbreaks of xenophobia, then we get an idea of the extent of the weakness of the movements.

[2] It would seem that the song Miriam Makeba made famous (written by Jeremy Taylor) will come back to haunt us: “Now this land is so rich it seems strange to me, that the black man whose labour helped it to be, cannot enjoy the fruits that abound, he is uprooted and kicked from his own piece of ground”! Just as the migrant worker ``disturbed the white man in his sleep’’, it seems that today the immigrant may just disturb the black man in his sleep!

[3] I am not sure if a cadre of this kind exists in any of the regions of struggle today (possibly in Latin America?). In my knowledge the last time we had an activist cadre of this kind was in the period from about the 1890s to the 1920s in Europe, when many of the socialist militants were active in several countries at once. For us of course this is the music of the future.

[4] When the issue of why South Africans must be ``hospitable’’ to immigrants from Africa is discussed in the commercial press, and in ANC statements in particular, the issue that is always brought up is how African countries were hospitable and stood in solidarity with South Africa in the anti-apartheid struggle. This discourse has also seeped into activists in the social movements. This self-serving view of the role of non-South African people in the struggle conveniently forgets the thousands and thousands of miners who built the labour movement in South Africa – that central pillar of the struggle against apartheid. I say this discourse is self-serving on the part of the ANC leadership because by privileging the exile moment in the liberation struggle it achieves two things. First, it can justify its attitudes that the working-class expectations of delivery are inflated, as it was the ANC (which did not struggle to be poor) that was the key to our freedom. Second, it marginalises the role of the ordinary working-class people of the region by transforming it into a role of ``hospitable’’ but passive subjects. A recognition that the working people of the region were active agents within South Africa creates the basis for a perspective of “open borders”, which we developed above.

[5] There are a number of NGOs and research organisations that have been doing work on immigration and on immigrant communities, and their work has been important in the general development of anti-xenophobia work in South Africa. The positioning of organisations like Khanya College and the Education Rights Project as support organisations working with the social movements has meant that their work in particular was able to influence work with membership-based organisations.

[6] “Building Solidarity Between the Anti-Privatisation Forum and the Immigrant Communities in Gauteng” (2007)

[7] Michele Wucker is an executive director of the World Policy Institute in New York City and a research fellow at the Immigration Policy Center.

Submitted by Iskandar (not verified) on Thu, 07/24/2008 - 11:16


Thanks, Terry Townsend, for letting me post. I am not based within the maelstrom that is Southern Africa. From my working class sofa ten thousand miles away, I have said the violence in South Africa is not xenophobia. When workers from neighboring countries -- Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swazi and as far away as Congo, Nigeria and Tanzania -- have been coming into South Africa since the 1940's, this is not xenophobia.

The analysis which characterizes this as xenophobia is wrong, it mimics the Imperialist propaganda which I roundly chastised The Black Commentator for reproducing. If our analysis of developments in Southern Africa cannot deepen agitation in the anti-imperialist struggle, it has no value.

So when I wrote about how the Black Liberation Movement has never had the democratic space to complete their revolutions in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa, that shortcoming also speaks to the violent attacks against workers in South Africa (see, #2770).

Imperialist finance continues to support vicious, counterrevolutionary forces such as Inkatha and Renamo. Inkatha Freedom Party necklaced anti-apartheid organizers and guerilla fighters inside South African during the Nineties. They drove out forces sympathic to the liberation movement, then the press characterized this as fragmentation inside the movement, when it was in fact neo-colonialism and counterinsurgency.

Renamo was supported by the SADF to terrorize peasants in Mozambique so that the FRELIMO revolution would not succeed, or at least be completed. The democratic efforts made by FRELIMO came under fire and were turned into defeat by Renamo's violence. This group now functions as an Imperialist party inside Mozambique.

Not having vanquished their enemies, the anti-colonial forces have been held hostage by the enemies of black liberation. Imperialism has made us appear guilty for its violence. And by us I don’t just mean freedom fighters thru out Southern Africa, but US-grown revolutionaries from the Sixties, including Malcolm X, and members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. This problem also polluted the New Jewel Movement with the execution of Maurice Bishop and the subsequent US invasion.

By extension, this fascist colonialism is concentrated in the US wars of drugs and crime in the black community, where 12% of the population accounts for over 50% of the captives in the prison-industrial complex.

What is going on in Soweto and Alexandria has to do with Imperialism, not working class conflict. It has to do with the Imperialists turning back the black revolution, as it swore to do when Zimbabwe claimed victory over the Rhodesian apartheid regime.

I remember newspaper commentaries across America in 1980. They ridiculed even the name Zimbabweans had chosen for themselves, saying, in effect, ‘[niggers] aren’t smart enuf to build stone structures like those found at old Dzimbabwe.’ This was the gauntlet dashed in the face of the anti-racist movement, not just black people, but everybody who opposed apartheid and colonialism and Imperialism.

If we don’t understand the difference, we will make the mistake of stripping support from our comrades and joining Imperialism's vicious cause. I said that we kno the liberation leaders have made serious errors. Some of them have betrayed the revolution.

This is because we, the working class and peasant masses who made the revolution, did not have the democratic space to complete our work. Africa’s masses did not have it on the left, whence they had every right to expect it. Neither did they have it on the right, where every woman and man knew -- against their great compassion and love of life -- a bloodbath may be in order to purchase genuine democracy.