South Africa's growing attacks against immigrant Africans: a perspective from below

Abahlali Mjondol

Attacks on African migrants in South Africa are connected to oppression of poor black people of South Africa. To prevent the poor from organizing and standing up to their real enemies, the state tacitly encourages violence against foreigners.

There is a war in our city. Our African brothers and sisters are being openly attacked on the streets.

In 2008 our movement, Abahlali (The shack-dwellers) stood firm against the attacks on people born in other African countries. We committed ourselves to shelter and defend our brothers and sisters. As a result there have been no attacks in any of our communities.

For some time now we have been working closely with the Congolese Solidarity Campaign. We have been working to build a politic from below that accepts each person without regard to where they come from or what language they speak. In this struggle we face constant attack from the state, the ruling party and others. We have been attacked for having members from the Eastern Cape, members born in other countries and Indian members. We have always stood firm against these attacks. Our movement has survived ten years of repression.

On the 8 April we supported a march against xenophobia organized by our comrades in the Congolese Solidarity Campaign together with the Somali Association of South African and other migrant organizations. There was a permit for the march and yet the police would not allow it to go ahead. They stopped people from leaving their communities to travel to the march. They attacked the march with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. One Congolese man was severely beaten by the police with a plank. One of our members, from the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest, had her leg broken during the assault by the police.

Senior police officers accosted us ‘’what do you have to do with this march? Why are you supporting them’’? One of our comrades from the Eastern Cape was told by the police that: “You are from the Eastern Cape, you will cause a war here and then run away to Eastern Cape. Keep quiet.” We do not know who will be the next. Some of the people who are now attacking people born in other African countries are saying that they will attack the Indians next.

But the violence used to expel us from this democracy does not only come from the police. Since 2009 we have also been openly attacked by the ruling party. At the march on the 8 April there was another march of the so-called ‘’locals’’ who were screaming and saying “foreigners must go”. What we noted in this march that went parallel to ours was that it used people working at taxi ranks and drug addicts known as “whoonga boys” in Durban. Some people had been transported all the way from Port Shepstone to support this march. We were not only assaulted by the police. We were also threatened and assaulted by this group who said to us: “Why are you supporting these foreigners”. On that day the police were supporting this group.

Despite the violence and intimidation from the police and ‘the locals’ we made it to the City Hall.

Many of the Congolese here in Durban are fleeing war and the destruction of their country. Yet here they are subject to more violence, including from the police. People in the Marikana Land Occupation have also been subject to serious violence, including regular evictions, beatings, torture and assassination. Yet when we try to unite and to take to the streets to assert that every person is a person, that everyone counts, we are openly beaten by the police. There is no democracy for the poor in this country. It does not matter which country you were born in, or what part of South Africa you come from, or what language you speak. If you are poor and black you are excluded from this democracy with the open use of violence.

The march on 8 April revealed an important lesson. These attacks are well planned and supported by powerful people. When the police began to attack a legal and peaceful march we realized that there was a bigger political plot to attack the march against xenophobia. Today in some areas the police are just escorting the thugs that are carrying out these attacks. They come in groups to ask for foreigners’ permits to be in South Africa and start stealing and looting. The police have not stopped these attacks.

We urge the South African government to take urgent steps to stop the attacks and to arrest and prosecute all perpetrators. We also urge the South African government, all African Ambassadors based here and the AU to work for peace and stability across the whole continent and for an Africa in which land, wealth and power are fairly shared between the people. Africa is rich. There is no reason for Africans to have to live in war and impoverishment.

We are appeal to all South Africans, to help us end this war on fellow Africans. We are appealing to the church leaders, progressive forces and to the radical students to join us in this struggle. We are doing what we can, we are undertaking small acts of solidarity like arranging for South Africans to fetch the children of migrants from their schools and take them to safe places

These are dangerous times. Everyone in the city is scared. The sun is about to go down and we fear that there will be a lot more killing and looting tonight. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

From Pambazuka Issue 722