[DEBATE] : ANC elite sowed seeds of hatred
force4 at ntlworld.com
Fri May 30 09:58:10 BST 2008
ANC elite sowed seeds of hatred
Weekly Worker 723 Thursday May 29 2008
The outbreak of xenophobia that has swept South Africa for the last two
weeks exposes, above all, the sad state of the working class movement. The
movement that united workers and the poor across ethnic and tribal lines
during the revolutionary struggle against the apartheid state has been
reduced to powerlessness, as relatively small gangs have terrorised anyone
suspected of being makwere-kwere (foreign).
As I write, 56 have been killed, according to official figures, while it is
estimated that there are 80,000 displaced people, many of whom have fled
across the borders to neighbouring countries.
The first incidents occurred in townships and 'informal settlements' around
Johannesburg, in areas dominated by ethnic Zulus. Groups of men chanting
"Zulu nation" went on the rampage, going from shack to shack and demanding
money. Those who were unable to answer in Zulu were beaten; others escaped
injury by handing over much needed cash. But the violence soon spread to
other towns and cities, and it was not just Zulus who were attacking the
Several among the dead are actually South Africans - either those who
answered in the 'wrong' language or those whose partners were foreign
citizens. South Africa hosts hundreds of thousands of migrants, not only
from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Botswana, but from Nigeria,
Somalia, Congo, etc, etc.
I asked Gwede Mantashe, who is both secretary general of the African
National Congress and chair of the South African Communist Party, what had
provoked the violence. The underlying cause, he said, was a "scramble for
scarce resources" - the influx of people meant there were not enough houses
and there was also competition between small businesses.
He also commented that in the "run-up to the 2009 election" there were
"signs" of political involvement, "just like in 1991" - he referred to gangs
coming from township hostels, where there was a "concentration of particular
political parties". I asked him point blank: did he mean the (Zulu-based)
Inkatha Freedom Party? "Possibly, yes," he answered. "We are not ruling that
Of course, it is correct to say that migrants have added to the overcrowding
in the sprawling shanty towns and squatter camps that surround every
conurbation. But they are not the cause of it - millions of South Africans
have migrated to the cities from the countryside in search of a better life.
So Mantashe was right when he told me that it is "a little bit simplistic"
to say it is just xenophobia - the dire social conditions and lack of hope
experienced by so many provide a fertile breeding ground for the promotion
of all manner of imagined sectional interests. But attempting to blame it
all on the IFP smacks of an opportunistic attempt to avoid the finger being
pointed at the ANC itself.
Commenting on the violence in ANC Today, Mantashe stated on behalf of the
ruling party: "Our policies are not at fault. The policies of the ANC seek
to fight poverty and to provide services to the people" (May 23-29). Those
greedy township-dwellers are the ones to blame: "We have to work hard to
ensure that we root out corruption of the nature that robs us of our
humanity. Many people have taken occupation of more than one RDP house [a
prefabricated box provided by the state] and sell their houses instead of
living in them. We must put a stop to this practice and expose all who are
Admittedly, "There is no doubt that overcrowding and poverty has a hand to
play in how people will react when they feel hard done by." But the message
is clear: the "corrupt" are the desperate people in the townships and
'informal settlements', not the ANC politicians who have struck all sorts of
underhand deals with businesses large and small; nor the police, who are
renowned for their harassment, extortion and bribery of migrants, and their
occasional night-time raids on their refuges.
Yet Mantashe and the ANC urge everyone to "support the police in rooting out
the criminals who inspired these acts of barbarism". And the police are now
backed up by the army in key trouble spots.
In his syndicated weekly column, 'Inside labour', socialist Terry Bell
writes: "Poverty, bureaucratic inefficiencies, arrogance and corruption all
played a part in creating the conditions in which frustration and
hopelessness could turn to blind rage. And the social and economic
environment of a country is largely created by governments, encouraged
always by those who profit most from the status quo.
"So it was that our government, in alliance with domestic business and
supported by most opposition parties, promoted the virus of nationalism
which, in the right conditions, can mutate into rabid xenophobia. In July,
seven years ago, when the Proudly South African campaign was launched, this
column noted: 'Proudly South African or proudly xenophobic. That is the
question facing the more class-conscious elements of the trade union
movement" (May 22).
Comrade Bell notes that the impetus for the campaign had its origins in the
trade unions, which demanded no imports from countries that "did not adhere
to labour standards . at least on a par with those in South Africa". But, as
the general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers pointed out at
the time, "Xenophobia is a risk in a campaign like this."
That general secretary was Gwede Mantashe. I put this to him during our
interview: was there a connection between such campaigns - or indeed the
drive against "illegal immigrants" fronted by his SACP comrade, Charles
Nqakula, the minister of safety and security - and the current attacks?
"No, no, no. The Proudly South African campaign was a different issue. The
point I was raising was a class issue" - ie, if South African workers refuse
to buy goods made by workers in China or Britain, what if workers from those
countries take the same attitude in relation to the product of South African
workers? Such protectionism "flies in the face of workers' internationalism"
. Mantashe did not want to "link that to the current development".
However, his concern for "workers' internationalism" does not stop him
calling on all ANC members, in his ANC Today appeal, to "work together to
build this unique nation".
In addition to supporting the police "in their work . to rid our streets,
hostels and informal settlements of criminals", Mantashe called on ANC
cadres to take the lead in forming street committees and "take the streets
back from criminals" - he told me that he and the rest of the ANC/SACP
leadership were "working on that around the clock".
Street committees were, often spontaneously, formed during the great
anti-apartheid upsurge of the 1980s. But, just as the ANC - with the SACP at
its core - has been transformed from a revolutionary movement into an
establishment party, so the street committees have been supplanted by
official 'law and order' agencies.
People like Mantashe may still mouth the language of Marxism, but one thing
is certain: South Africa is in desperate need of a genuine Communist Party,
of genuine "workers' internationalism", which alone can defeat sectionalism,
tribalism, xenophobia and all other divisive ideologies. In its absence the
working class does not exist in any real sense.
The struggle for such a party and such a programme must be waged, first and
foremost, within the SACP itself.
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