“No African is 
a foreigner in Africa
– except down in 
South Africa”
Achille Mbembe

On June 16, Operation Dudula took place, which had been publicly prepared and convened for several weeks. The word dudula means to push in the Zulu language. Pushing immigrants out of the country. Acts of savagery and barbarism were practiced by hordes of lumpens at the behest of local politicians against defenseless families. Houses invaded and burned, small neighborhood businesses owned by foreigners were looted and set on fire.

The choice of June 16 is related to the Soweto Massacre in 1976, during apartheid. On that occasion a student demonstration was violently repressed by riot police, who used heavy weapons to kill at least 95 young people.

 

The deep roots of Operation Dudula:

The declining South African economy has been hitting unemployment records year after year. Malnutrition among the population is immense. Studies show that around 30% of children suffer from stunting. All this in the giant producer of gold and diamonds.

South Africa’s decay began in Nelson Mandela’s negotiations with imperialism at the end of apartheid. The country was convulsed by popular mobilizations, local and general strikes. The situation was uncontrollable and yet imperialism supported the end of the apartheid regime in exchange for the opening of the economy. The result of this process was deindustrialization, factory closings and an unemployment rate that has been growing year after year. At the same time, Mandela pledged to pay off the foreign debt and the debts of mining companies that had not paid taxes for years. 

As if all this were not enough, over the 25 years of government of the ANC (African National Congress), -COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and -SACP (South African Communist Party), labour legislation has been completely destroyed, trade unions hollowed out and it is only possible to strike after being approved by a tripartite body (employers-government-workers). Striking without the approval of the government and employers is illegal.

 

Against unemployment: expel the immigrants

With high unemployment rates, it is easy to find a “scapegoat” for the problem. The bourgeoisie and its leaders, in different ways, claim that immigrants are responsible for the lack of work. Even the truck drivers’ union campaigns and attacks foreign drivers accusing them of being responsible for the lowering of wages. The union that should unite workers divides them between nationals and foreigners.

 

Some cases of xenophobic barbarism

The stories of xenophobia told by immigrants are revolting. Migrant children are attacked inside schools; street vendors have their merchandise seized by hordes and in case of resistance there is a risk of life; passengers are thrown out of moving urban trains; during the pandemic because of the lockdown the Migration Department is closed and therefore documents cannot be renewed every six months and those with expired documents are arrested and deported. There are countless abuses against black Africans. 

 

Xenophobic groups and impunity:

The public call, with posters, appearances in the media, shows the total impunity of xenophobic groups.  In the cases of violence cited above, none of the perpetrators of these acts were penalised.  At the meeting place of the members of Operation Dudula there were approximately a thousand people. Diepkloof police spokesman Matlou Mteto said police were protecting small business owners and preventing crowds.  “We have been doing patrols all over Soweto to ensure that there are no illegal gatherings and to prevent any action against the small businesses. The simplest question is: isn’t the 1,000 people in Operation Dudula a case of agglomeration?

 

Ramaphosa government puts fuel on the fire

President Cyril Ramaphosa is a former leader of the union of mining workers, who always appeared alongside Nelson Mandela in important demonstrations. He later tried to run for president and lost the ANC primaries. He temporarily withdrew from politics and became director of the multinational mining company London Miners (Lonmin). In August 2012, during a strike, the police opened fire on the strikers and the result was 34 dead. The fact generated a national commotion. An Investigation Commission was created and it located several emails from Ramaphosa to the authorities and in one of them, the then director of Lonmin says: ““The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such ….”. At the end of the email, he recommends that the police intervene with force to end the strike. For this episode Ramaphosa became known as the “Marikana’s Butcher”

During the week before Operation Dudula, Cyril Ramaphosa appeared several times in the media talking about unemployment. He treated unemployment as a tragedy, but without naming those responsible. Thus, the Marikana’s Butcher added fuel to the fire of xenophobia.

 

South Africa: a xenophobic state

Checking the actions of the Executive Power, Legislative Power and the Judiciary, we find that xenophobia is a policy of the South African capitalist state.

The Executive Power headed by Cyril Ramaphosa, as shown above, is in tune with the promoters of Operation Dudula, although it does not refer to immigrants, it is also silent about xenophobia.  Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, Minister of Small Business Development, has a sharper stance on the cause of unemployment: “Ban foreigners or at least ban them from accessing jobs in the informal economy

The National Congress is made up of 400 deputies has been, year after year, voting laws against immigrants.”These laws include the Refugee Act 1998, the Immigration Act 2002, the Immigration Amendment Act 2011,the Refugee Amendment Act, the 2016 Immigration Amendment Act, the Refugee Amendment Act 2017, to which the 2016 Border Management Authority Bill and the 2017 White Paper on International Migration should be added”.

The Judiciary has not condemned any crime of racism in the last five years. On the contrary, it was able to condemn the organisers of the occupation of the ground floor of the building where the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) was installed.

For all these reasons, we assert that xenophobia is a conscious policy of the South African state. Understanding who the enemies are, helps us to understand against whom we must fight.

 

Would there be any complaints to UNHCR?

Many honest activists say it might be necessary to report cases of xenophobia to the UN or its specialised body, the UNHCR.

To dispel illusions, it is good to remember that UNHCR considers South África to be “a generous host country with progressive asylum policies” and that it will “continue to support the government in providing assistance to refugees and asylum seekers”. 

In addition to supporting the government in its migration policies, UNHCR supported the violent expulsion by the Police of migrants who were protesting in the entrance hall of the building where it has its offices. 

 

The complicit silence of workers’ organisations

It would be natural for workers’ organisations to support their economic migrant brothers or immigrants who are victims of the violence of militias and wars. Solidarity should be something natural, but it is not. The COSATU and NUMSA trade union centres do not pay the slightest attention to this serious problem. The political parties ANC and SRWP (Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party) are not concerned about xenophobia either. They do not even conduct clear campaigns against xenophobic groups, government policy or state bodies.

 

Immigrants can only count on the solidarity of workers from other countries

In 2019 in the face of a xenophobic attack, major demonstrations took place against South African companies and businesses that have branches in other countries. In Mozambique, 300 trucks were stopped at the border causing an estimated loss of over $1 million a day. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, premises of a South African-owned chain of clothing shops were ransacked. In Ghana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, South African businesses were attacked.

The most forceful response came from Nigeria where the population took to the streets and stormed and looted the premises of the supermarket chains Shoprite and Pink’n Pay, as well as the telephone company MTN, all of them South African owned. Even the country’s Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria was closed for fear it would be attacked.

Organising our self-defence

In the current historical moment we are living through an economic crisis, unemployment, hunger and also pandemics, there is a strong process of social polarisation. The workers and the poor people seek to preserve the minimum of dignity to be able to live and for this they go out to fight. The bourgeoisie knows that its profits depend on increasing the misery of the masses. We live in times where there is no middle ground. It’s either accept more poverty or fight. That is why we say that these are times of polarisation.

Struggles are treated with increasing violence. In Lesotho (Africa), at the end of May, a strike by 40,000 workers in the garment industry saw two workers killed who were participating in the strike demanding a 20% pay rise.

In Swaziland, this small country in Africa that has less than a million inhabitants, the murder of a young student committed – possibly – by the police, generated a series of youth demonstrations. The demonstrations with more than 3,000 students confronted the police in the streets when they were going to take a petition to the Regional Police Delegate in which they accused that the young man had been murdered by the police themselves. Tear gas was released at the Methodist Church where the family attended a memorial service for the dead youth. More tear gas and rubber bullets on the streets. A baby in the mother’s lap, who was at the bus stop, died asphyxiated by tear gas; a student was blinded when hit by a rubber bullet. 

But if the bourgeoisie radicalizes in repression, the movement’s response is increasingly radical as well. The struggle for the end of the #endsars police in Nigeria, against the government of Macky Sall in Senegal, the strikes in Mali, among other struggles shows the radicalization of the mass movement.

In this situation of social polarization, the specter of insurrections frightens the bourgeoisie. Xenophobia is used to divide workers between migrants and non-migrants and thereby divide the working class and poor people. The complicit silence of the workers’ organizations does not serve to unify those below. 

So, for migrants, it remains to be concluded that xenophobic groups act with the complicity and responsibility of governments and the South African State. The UN body, UNHCR, which could be a point of support for migrants, chose the side of the xenophobes as can be seen from the above-mentioned statements and the responsibility for the repression of refugees who occupied the entrance hall of the UNHCR headquarters building in Cape Town.

Thus, it is up to the workers to organize their self-defense. Today in some townships in Cape Town women defend themselves against rapists by blowing a whistle. This is a first form of self-defense. But more progress is needed in the organization. The first step is to discuss xenophobia and explain well that nothing can be expected from the Police, the State and UNHCR. The second step is for everyone to understand that trade unions and working class political organizations cannot watch the attacks and do nothing. And lastly, among everyone, it is necessary to talk about ways to collectively defend against attacks. After all, as the social movements in South Africa say: “United we stand, divided we fall”.