Xenophobia tears apart South Africa's working class

By Thandokuhle Manzi and Patrick Bond

May 26, 2008 -- The low-income black township here in Durban which suffered more than any other during apartheid, Cato Manor, was the scene of a test performed on a Mozambican last Wednesday morning (May 21). At 6:45am, in the warmth of a rising subtropical winter sun, two unemployed men strolling on Belair Road approached the middle-aged immigrant. They accosted him and demanded, in the local indigenous language isiZulu, that he say the word meaning ``elbow'' (this they referred to with their hand). The man answered ``idolo'', which unfortunately means ``knee''. The correct answer is ``indololwane''. His punishment: being beaten up severely, and then told to ``go home''.

March against xenophobia, Johannesburg, May 24, 2008.

What was going through those two young thugs' heads? Why did others like them kill more than 50 immigrants in various South African slums last week, forcing tens of thousands more to flee their homes?

Cato Manor has several features that incubate conflict of the type Thando Manzi witnessed – and was powerless to prevent -- on his way to high school last Wednesday. The same scene played out dozens if not hundreds of times here in Durban's sprawling townships, where more than 1.5 million people suffer daily indignities.

Indeed, thousands of immigrants were asked such questions by assailants in recent weeks. Many millions heard of the elbow test and saw press coverage of immigrants being burned to death last week in Johannesburg's eastern townships, which ironically house the reserve pools of labour closest to Africa's busiest airport, O.R.Tambo International, the gateway to and from the continent.

Thousands of Zimbabweans and Mozambicans living in Johannesburg and Durban returned across the borders, but most went nearby to police stations, community centres and churches. The notoriously corrupt Cato Manor police station now has several hundred people sheltering in the immediate vicinity, and a large tent was erected for shelter.

A 15-minute drive south of Cato Manor is Chatsworth, whose best known community activist is Orlean Naidoo. She joined us at central Durban's main place of safety, Emmanuel Cathedral, on Thursday night. The Catholic church had taken in 150 terrified Zimbabweans, and that night Naidoo helped rescue another 100 from Chatsworth's Bottlebrush shack settlement. By Sunday, that number of refugees at Emmanuel had doubled again.

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Ashwin Desai documented Chatsworth's progressive struggles dating back more than a decade (in his 2002 book We are the Poors). Sadly, last week, a majority of residents voted in a municipal by-election for the welfarist-nationalist Minority Front, with its single-minded emphasis on Indian identity. And in Bottlebrush, low-income Africans were apparently incited – and immigrants terrorised – by an anonymous pamphlet telling foreigners to leave.

Naidoo notes the rise of racial and class tensions here: ``Bottlebrush settlement has never been properly organised'', she says. ``It is not an easy thing to do, when people are subject to arrest at any time due to lack of formal documents.''

In every locale, surface stresses that invite bitter residents to cheer on beatings and ethnic cleansing have deep faultlines. Cato Manor violence appears endemic for several reasons that Thando Manzi hears every day in ordinary conversation, to the point of stereotyping.

To illustrate, a taxi war is now underway, as one owners' association whose market has stagnated attempts to invade Cato Manor turf. Taxi lords from nearby Chesterville – a township two kilometres west – apparently instructed their drivers to begin expanding services into the Cato Manor Taxi Association's routes a few weeks ago.

The Manzi household hears gunshots most evenings, and it is sometimes impossible to move around the township due to flying bullets. One taxi lord has been killed and quite a few innocent passengers and bystanders – including a schoolchild – were wounded.

Cato Manor

Indeed, long-suffering residents know Cato Manor – named after the city's first white settler mayor -- as highly contested terrain following British settlement in 1843 (http://www.mantramedia.us/sites/cmt/history.htm). A century later, Indians and Africans regained occupation rights, but the apartheid regime soon practiced a sophisticated divide-and-conquer that heightened both ethnic and class cleavages.

By 1949, Cato Manor's unequal internal power relations, evident in petty retail trade and landlordism, generated a backlash by Africans against Indians that left 137 residents dead over two days, with thousands more injured. Recovering from this catastrophe, however, the African National Congress (ANC) began serious organising, and set the stage for women's uprisings against both the state and African men who patronised the local beerhall (where profits financed local apartheid), instead of consuming the women's homebrew.

Combinations of local grievances plus anti-racist macropolitics meant Cato Manor gender relations were as advanced as anywhere in the country. But by 1964, the apartheid regime overwhelmed social resistance, embarking on mass forced removals, leaving the land just below the University of KwaZulu-Natal vacant for a quarter century.

But like so much of our ``planet of slums'', as Mike Davis describes these sites, a new generation of shack settlements then emerged in the interstices of working-class Indian and African communities. The post-apartheid government's construction of tiny housing units, half the size of apartheid ``matchboxes'', did not help, as too many quickly went onto the market and became unaffordable to Cato Manor's lowest-income residents, though immigrants have bought them and are settling in.

The ethnicised political economy of Cato Manor capitalism creates many such tensions. Speaking at a labour-community-refugee forum on May 25, Timothy Rukombo, a leader of exiled Zimbabweans in Durban, described how microeconomic friction is displaced into hate-filled nationalism: ``If you want to go home [to Zimbabwe], you compare prices and you see the large bus is a little cheaper than the minibus kombitaxi. Then when you go to the bus, the taxi driver shouts loudly that you are makwerekwere'', a derogatory term for immigrant just as insulting as ``kaffir''.

Rukombo continues: ``And when we are beaten, and we call the police, they never come.'' In fact, when police do come – as to Johannesburg's Central Methodist Church on January 30, 2008, where 1500 Zimbabweans had taken refuge – then their agenda is often pure brutality. Host bishop Paul Verryn was beaten that evening, and almost all the Zimbabweans were arrested. But no charges stuck.

Structural reasons

These sorts of grievances Thando Manzi hears continually. At a time of roaring food price inflation – as high as 80% for basics this year – he identifies structural reasons for the neighbours' xenophobia emerge:

  • lack of jobs (formal sector employment dropped by a million after 1994) and declining wage levels as a result of immigrant willingness to work for low pay on a casualised basis;
  • immigrant tenacity in finding informal economic opportunities even when these are illegal, such as streetside trading of fruits, vegetables, cigarettes, toys and other small commodities;
  • housing pressure which leads many immigrants to overcrowd inner-city flats especially in Durban and Johannesburg, hence driving up rentals of a dwelling unit beyond the ability of locals to afford;
  • surname identity theft, which can cost an immigrant R3000 by way of a bribe for an ID document and driver's license (including fake marriages to South Africans who only learn much later); and
  • increases in local crime blamed on immigrants.

Behind some of this tension is the recent expansion of the hated migrant labour system. We thought in 1994 that the ANC government would slowly but surely rid the economy of migrancy, and turn single-sex dormitory hostels into decent family homes. But hostels remain, and in Johannesburg, the ghastly buildings full of unemployed men were the source of many attacks.

Even if racially-defined geographical areas have disappeared from apartheid-era Swiss-cheese maps, the economic logic of drawing inexpensive labour from distant sites is even more extreme (China has also mastered the trick), now that it no longer is stigmatised by apartheid connotations.

Instead of hailing from KwaZulu or Venda or Bophuthatswana or Transkei, the most desperate migrant workers in SA's major cities are from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – countries partially deindustrialised by Johannesburg capital's expansion up-continent.

In a brutally frank admission of self-interest regarding these workers, First National Bank chief economist Cees Bruggemann intoned to Business Report last week: ``They keep the cost of labour down... Their income gets spent here because they do not send the money back to their countries.''

If many immigrants don't send back remittances (because their wages are wickedly low and the cost of living here has soared), that in turn reminds us of how apartheid drew cheap labour from Bantustans: for many years women were coerced into supplying unpaid services -- child-rearing, healthcare and eldercare for retirees -- so as to reproduce fit male workers for the mines, factories and plantations.

Apartheid-era superprofits for capital were the result. Now, with more porous borders and the deep economic crisis Zimbabweans face (in part because South African President Thabo Mbeki still nurtures the Mugabe dictatorship), South African corporate earnings are roaring. After falling due to overproduction and class struggle during the 1970s-80s, profit rates here rose from 1994-2001 to 9th highest in the world, according to a Bank of England study, while the wage share fell from 5% over the same period.

So notwithstanding South Africa's national unemployment rate of 40%, a xenophobia-generated bottleneck in the supply of migrant labour could become a problem for capital, such as occured at Primrose Gold Mine near Johannesburg. The mine's workforce consists nearly entirely of Mozambicans, who much of last week stayed away due to fear, thus shutting the shafts.

On the big plantations, northeast of Johannesburg, men like Paul van der Walt of the Transvaal (sic) Agricultural Union remark upon the danger: ``It is not far-fetched that even farmers employing workers lawfully from neighbouring states could experience at first hand that xenophobia is not restricted to metropolitan areas.''

So what next? If you work for the state to impose neoliberalism on capital's behalf, as does South Africa's central banker Tito Mboweni, you stick with sadomonetarist policies ``come hell or high water'', as he vowed last week, and you maintain fiscal austerity, as ANC finance minister Trevor Manuel also promised.

If you are a ruling party politician, either ignore the problem or speak platitudes – like Thabo Mbeki, who didn't even bother visiting the conflict sites – or send in the army (a dangerous new development), or distract attention as much as possible through ``Third Force'' allegations. To explain xenophobia, ANC minister of national intelligence Ronnie Kasrils harked back to an earlier threat: ``We see, on the surface, that there is a duplication of what happened in the early ’90s. We know that there were political elements behind that. Are those same trigger elements in place now? We’d be naive to just write that off.''

And if you are an internationalist activist, like the late Soweto resident Lindiwe Mazibuko or Orlean Naidoo of Chatsworth, you address the roots of the problem by fighting for access to water and decent public services for all residents regardless of national origin.

With four other residents, Mazibuko won an historic court case against the Johannesburg Water company on April 30, doubling her free water supply and banning prepayment meters (though the city will appeal). Tragically, she died of cancer last week, but many more activists are inspired by her example.

And if you are a brave immigrant, we must be grateful that you reinvigorate our fights for socio-economic justice, against the upsurge of racist xenophobia. In solidarity, several thousand marched in Johannesburg on Saturday May 24.

Forty-five years ago, May 25 1963 was the day the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) was founded by nationalist elites to support liberation from colonialism. It is hard to celebrate Africa Day given that in the meantime, neoliberalism and paranoid nationalism imposed from above have made mockery of Africa's ubuntu philosophy (we are who we are through others). From below, the thugs who beat up that Mozambican have merely joined a rapidly-growing movement in the opposite direction: to barbarism.

(Manzi lives in Cato Manor; Bond works at the Centre for Civil Society, http://www.ukzn.ac.za/ccs)


NUMSA Press Statement, 26 May 2008

Anguished union leaders' tribute to a shop steward killed in xenophobic attacks

Exceptionally gifted shop steward of the metalworkers' giant union has
been killed by prowling mobs- the latest victim of ongoing xenophobic
violence against foreign nationals- throughout the country.

Walter Ntombela, a Mozambiquean national who has been a shop steward
for the past 10 years, was killed in his shack at the squalid
Madelakufa Squatter camp, outside Tembisa township in Germiston.

Grief-stricken family members and the leadership of the National Union
of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) expressed the deepest sorrow,
also appealing to the mobs that are running riot to stop killing
before it is too late.

The witty Ntombela was dearly loved by his work colleagues. He died at
the weekend after he was stabbed with pangas by rowdy crowds which
raided foreign nationals and set his shack on fire.

His wife and three children, who narrowly escaped death in the inferno
of fire, have since been accommodated by police in the community hall,
awaiting to be transported to Mozambique.

Numsa Wits Central West regional chairman Motsamai Ponya lamented; "It
is unfathomable grief to lose a talented son of the metalworkers'
union and the most creative worker leader."

The shattered Numsa chairperson described Ntombela as a humorous and
lighthearted person, and a guitarist who always joked about being a
foreigner and a union activist.

Ntombela, a team leader at a tools manufacturing engineering firm in
Jet Park, South East of Johannesburg was regarded as a workers'
struggle champion, although he was an immigrant from Mozambique.

He has been at the forefront of Numsa campaigns in the Ekurhuleni
region. He was a chairperson of the shop stewards campaign's

Xenophobic violence claims life of Numsa shopsteward

Tribute paid to the ‘witty’ Walter Ntombela

Mziwakhe Hlangani, 26 May 2008

The latest wave of xenophobic violence has claimed the life National Union of Metalworkers’ of South Africa (Numsa) shopsteward Walter Ntombela.

Ntombela, who has been described by colleagues and friends as being “witty” and “exceptionally gifted” has been killed by prowling mobs, becoming one of the scores of the ongoing xenophobic violence against foreign nationals, sweeping the country.

A Mozambiquean national who has been a shop steward for the past 10 years, Ntombela was killed over the weekend in his home, at the East Rand Madelakufa informal settlement, outside Tembisa.

Grief-stricken family members and the Numsa leadership, have expressed their “deepest sorrow,” appealing to the mobs that are running riot to “stop killing before it is too late”.

Said Numsa: “The witty Ntombela was dearly loved by his colleagues. He died at the weekend after he was stabbed with pangas by rowdy crowds which raided foreign nationals and set his shack on fire.”

His wife and three children, who narrowly escaped death in the inferno of fire, have since been accommodated by police in the local community hall, awaiting to be transported to Mozambique .

Numsa Wits Central West regional chairman Motsamai Ponya lamented: “It is an unfathomable grief to lose a talented son of the metalworkers’ union and the most creative worker leader.”

The shattered Numsa chairperson described Ntombela as “a humorous and light-hearted person, and a guitarist who always joked about being a foreigner and a union activist”.

Ntombela, a team leader at a tools manufacturing engineering firm in Jet Park, South East of Johannesburg’ was regarded as a workers’ struggle champion, although he was an immigrant from Mozambique.

He has been at the forefront of Numsa campaigns in the Ekurhuleni region. He was a chairperson of the shop stewards campaign’s committee.

In paying tribute to Ntombela’s death and many other foreign nationals who died at the hands of the marauding hordes throughout the country, Numsa has launched a workplace-based national education programme against xenophobia and tribalism.

Shopstewards committee councils across the country have distributed pamphlets against hatred of foreign national over the weekend. Local office bearers, regional and shop stewards councils are this week convening factory general meetings to explain the dangers of xenophobia and how it could spill over into tribalism attacks. It is anticipated that workers’ meetings, which began yesterday (26 May) will take place in more than 10 000 workplaces.

The campaign will continue until the end of June - culminate in securing among others - meetings with the national housing department to pursue the conversion of single sex hostels into family units.



This accessibly written booklet responds to some of the fears and myths about refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers. It also addresses schooling issues around admissions, registration, fees, language and unaccompanied minors. The booklet provides a list of organisations and their contact details that provide assistance to refugees and migrant workers. Please free to reproduce and distribute the entire booklet-CopyLeft conditions apply.

Dedication and introduction below:

This booklet is dedicated to all those young people from other lands who seek refuge in our country, who request our understanding, comfort and sanctuary and who strive for dignity after years of humiliation. It is particularly dedicated to Felicity from the DRC (see page 3), the memory of Alice Chumba (aged 18) and Mcheangeni Mlambo from Zimbabwe who died in Lindela detention camp (see page 7), Ziyaad from Palestine, Ahmed from Sudan (see page 2) and Pao from Burma-all of whom arrived in South Africa. It is also dedicated to the memory of Yaguine Koita and Fode Tounkara. Yaguine (15) and Fode (16) from Guinea were found dead in the landing gear of a plane in Brussels, Belgium in August, 1999. A note was found in one of their pockets. It read in part "...it is to your solidarity and generosity that we appeal for help... If you see that we have sacrificed ourselves and lost our lives, it is because we suffer too much... and need your help to struggle against poverty and war... Please excuse us very much for daring to write this letter".


At different points in our history, South Africa became home to people from different countries. When the Dutch colonised the Cape in the 1600s they brought with them slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Bengal and other countries. Many of these slaves were political prisoners who resisted Dutch colonial rule in their own countries. In the 1800s the British too brought labourers in near slave-like conditions from India to work in the sugar plantations of KwaZulu-Natal.

The growth of mining in South Africa in the late 1800s and 1900s also resulted in workers from all over the world coming to South Africa. Most of these miners came from countries in Southern Africa. They came from Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and elsewhere. They worked under terrible conditions together with workers born in South Africa to create the wealth and riches of our country. Wealth they did not benefit from.

Since 1994, South Africa has experienced another wave of newcomers - people fleeing wars and terrible hardships from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Angola, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Ethiopia. Like the migrants before them these people can make valuable contributions to our country.

All too often the suffering of many of these people before they came to South Africa and while they are here, is not always understood. Even worse, they are falsely blamed, harassed and attacked for the problems that exist in our country - problems such as unemployment and crime. It is wrong for some politicians and some of the media to blame foreigners for crime and unemployment in our country. Refugees and migrants are vulnerable and can easily be made into scapegoats.* The causes of unemployment and its social consequences like crime lie largely in the economic choices our government has made and should not be blamed on migrants.

Provided they are not subjected to prejudice, xenophobia and isolation, newcomers usually add richness in terms of art, clothing, culture, food, skills, literature and music to our country and our lives. Most of the recent arrivals create rather than take jobs from South Africans. Besides economic and other reasons to open our doors to those who come from elsewhere, there is a much more important reason: refugees, of whatever kind, present us with an opportunity to act with humanity and solidarity.

Most of the people who come to South Africa want their children to attend schools. Yet, communities and social movements have brought to the attention of the Education Rights Project, problems and questions refugees, asylum seekers and migrants have regarding their rights to education. The most common problems faced include issues of admission, school fees, documentation and age.

Studies* have found that 30 percent of refugees in some of our cities are not able to send their children to primary school. Many parents and caregivers cannot afford the cost of education; their children are denied admission because some schools do not accept their documents and once learners are in school they often face different kinds of discriminatory practices. Here are the stories of two such learners.


26 May 2008
Township residents give ANC peace mission an earful
Chantelle Benjamin and Hajra Omarjee

DEPUTY President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka got a taste of the mood among South African township dwellers yesterday when she and an African National Congress (ANC) delegation were greeted by people singing “we are fighting for our rights” at Orange Farm.

Three hundred community members at the Raphela Secondary School told the most senior government official to visit townships seen as potential xenophobic hotspots that they were frustrated by the government’s lack of delivery and unwillingness to deal with the immigrant influx.

Not far away, ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Cyril Ramaphosa got a slightly bemused welcome when he arrived at a similar gathering at Thetha Secondary School in Orange Farm. He had to be introduced.

Not many foreigners live in the vicinity so Ramaphosa soon found himself fielding questions about the lack of delivery of basic services. It turned into something of an imbizo, with the visiting dignitaries all taking notes and explaining the government’s programmes.

“When it comes to problems of xenophobia we see Thandi (Modise, ANC deputy secretary-general) and Cyril because they are worried about how it is projected outside,” said one member of the audience. “But when it comes to our problems the leadership does not care.”

Among the issues raised at the meeting attended by Mlambo-Ngcuka were: the strain being placed on townships by the number of illegal immigrants; the perception that immigrants were linked to the increase in crime, particularly the selling of drugs; and corrupt home affairs officials who were allegedly helping immigrants obtain illegal documents.

Community members also accused the police of turning a blind eye to crime in return for bribes. Fingers were also pointed at housing officials, with a member of the audience questioning the allocation of housing.

He said he knew of someone in Braam Fisher township who owned 15 houses: “Now I ask you, just how is that possible when some of us have no house?” His question was accompanied by chuckles from the audience

Taking copious notes yesterday with Mlambo-Ngcuka was Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya, and Noluthando Mayende-Sibiya, NEC member and president of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union.

Chairing the meeting was Gauteng local government MEC Qedani Mahlangu. According to Mahlangu, the comments will be collated and the information will be used by the various tiers of government to address the crisis.

Fortunately for the deputy president, only one basic services complaint was raised, and that was a request for toilets in the area by an elderly lady.

This was handed over to the City of Johannesburg.

The sheer number of immigrants flooding into the townships, and the fact that township dwellers were sharing limited resources, were concerns expressed repeatedly by the community.

The blackboards surrounding the classroom in which the meeting was held were littered, before the community arrived, with comments like “the Zimbabweans must leave” and “Let them be beaten by South African citizenship”.

A resident from Orange Farm Extension 3 said: “Imagine 2000 people crossing our border a day and then multiply that by 365 days a year; we now have a couple of million of these people in our country.

“I have to ask what our government is doing about the border; at the moment all it is doing is offering comments of support.”

He said Hillbrow was divided into factions controlled by foreigners, and that South Africans were afraid to go there any more.

“In one road there are the Congolese and in another Nigerians — groups all over. And let’s say you do go to the police station to report a crime, the people just pay bribes and nothing ever happens. We need to be realistic here and look at the real issues,” he said.

A member of the audience said goods being sold at rock bottom prices were undermining profits for local citizens. Referring specifically to gold chains being sold for R800 less than the cheapest price, he asked: “Where are they finding the jewellery for that price?”

Another community member expressed concern that displaced immigrants from Alexandra were flooding to less developed areas in Orange Farm and were going to attack residents in the area — a concern that is believed to have led to the violence in Diepsloot.

The message from the ANC yesterday was about encouraging ubuntu and leaving the governing to the ANC.

A flyer handed out at the start of the meeting urged communities to “leave issues of illegal immigration to the government to sort out in a legal and humane way”.

“Without peace and stability, development and delivery cannot continue,” it said.

Skweyiya and Mlambo-Ngcuka, in similar vein, said they understood the community’s frustration, but emphasised that members did have peaceful avenues available to them to raise their concerns, namely via the ANC, the government or “alliance structures”— such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions or the South African Communist Party.

“Take your concerns to (the) government or the relevant institutions. Do not take out your frustrations on people who cannot help you... poor people like yourselves who are selling goods to survive, ” said Mlambo-Ngcuka.

She said some foreigners employed South Africans and were creating jobs for local residents.

“We are asking for patience and tolerance,” said Skweyiya, reminding the crowd that he and other ANC exiles had been given sanctuary in other African countries and that SA would not be the country it was without the assistance of its neighbours.

He said there was a need for the country to return to the old system of street and ward committees. “The ANC knew everything that was happening in its communities and we need to go back to that system.”

The delegation warned about the possible impact the attacks could have on South Africans living abroad. “We ask that you keep that in mind”.


Xenophobia victims want SA to pay up

June 08, 2008 Edition 2

MAPUTO: Thousands of people marched through Mozambique's capital, Maputo, yesterday to urge that their government demand South Africa pay compensation to Mozambican victims of a recent spate of xenophobic attacks.

At least 62 people were killed and hundreds injured in the anti-immigrant violence that swept through poor communities across South Africa last month.

At least 23 Mozambicans were among the victims, most of whom were Africans.

Human rights activist Alice Mabota, who was among the approximately 1 000 demonstrators, said, "Mozambique's government must activate mechanisms with the South African authorities to have our compatriots rapidly compensated and the authors of the heinous acts brought to justice."

Carrying banners with slogans such as "xenophobia is selfishness" and "down with intolerance and hatred", the demonstrators assembled in Maputo's Independence Square.

Protesters pointed out that Mozambicans, who fled the violence in their thousands - many returning home with the help of their government - had been staunch allies of South Africans during apartheid. - Sapa-dpa