No African is a foreigner in Africa

– except down in South Africa

Achille Mbembe, is from Cameroun, and he is

professor and researcher of Witwatersrand University

By Cesar Neto

The plight of poor foreigners living in South Africa is terrible. Foreigners are 7% of the population. A substantial part are poor economic migrants and some are political refugees. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says there are 268,000 political refugees, mostly from Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia!

Massacre of migrants and refugees: the continuation of apartheid in other forms

Many honest fighters committed to the struggle against oppression and capitalist exploitation claim and look up to Nelson Mandela. Mandela was part of a select group of people who spent decades in prisons. He was in prison for 27 years for daring to fight oppression and exploitation. In this sense, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela should be seen as one of the great fighters and an example for many of us. However, as a driver of the process of ending Apartheid and as South Africa’s first black president, he cannot be an example.

The apartheid regime had existed since the beginning  of early of last century and in 1948, with the coming to power of the National Party, the segregation of racial population was institutionalized with worse laws than the American apartheid system imposed by Jim Crow.

Apartheid is remembered for the prohibition of black people attending schools for whites, sitting in the squares set aside for whites, living in regions inhabited by whites, and other examples of segregation. But, in fact, apartheid was much more than that. Blacks could not attend schools for whites, and there were no schools for blacks either. Blacks could not sit on white benches, and there were no black benches. They could not go to white neighborhoods, and black neighborhoods were true peacetime concentration camps.

Ending apartheid meant not only being able to attend white schools and squares, or live in white neighborhoods, but also restorative policies, such as building schools for black children, investing in leisure for the black population, and building houses for black people. More than that, it meant struggling for better wages and decent working conditions for blacks.

By choosing to build a rainbow nation, Mandela chose a different path from the one he traced before being arrested. He was no longer the bearded Mandela, who looked like Che Guevara, and had received military training in Ethiopia and other countries. Choosing to build a “Rainbow Nation”, paraphrasing a Brazilian politician, were soft Mandela’s new times of peace and love.

Migration policy following the pattern of black segregation in the apartheid era

As can be seen, since 1994, at the beginning of Nelson Mandela’s administration, there was the implementation of measures that regulate and limit the presence of migrants and refugees in the country. Thus, successive ANC-COSATU-Communist Party governments in South Africa revised, amended and enforced anti-immigration laws. 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.


According to Professor and Researcher Achille Mbembe of the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa:

These attempts have resulted in South Africa deporting more people per capita than several OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] states. Such high levels of deportation have been made possible thanks to the fact that South Africa polices the immigration of black African foreigners the way it used to police black South Africans under apartheid — through a combination of race profiling and spatial profiling. Race profiling as such may no longer apply to black South Africans. At the lower end of the long chain of vulnerability, black people from elsewhere are now its main targets. It is against them that the “spirit of violence” that underpinned forced removals, Bantustan policy and the general disenfranchisement of black South Africans has been redirected.”

Thus, according to Mbembe, the methods employed during the apartheid government in South Africa are now employed against black migrants from other parts of the African continent.


Massacre on migrants and refugees: the forms of violence

Violence against migrants and refugees occurs in two ways: one is daily violence in the workplace, school, housing or social life, especially when they need to request and/or renew documents with government agencies. The other cruder form occurs in times of economic crisis, as described in the article: South Africa: The Economic Crisis is Back, and Xenophobia is too.[1]


It is possible to understand everyday violence through the testimonies of the people who occupy the premises of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) building.

“We are here because we are not safe in South Africa. We need the UNCHR to get a solution for us. As you can see there is xenophobia, and we don’t have jobs. Our children aren’t safe going to school (…) My son, he was stabbed five times at school. There was someone who came to the school to kill my son, and he is 9-years-old. So I went to the police station, and went to complain about it, (but) they didn’t do anything, they said they can’t do anything. My child is traumatized, he told me, ‘Mommy, I don’t want to go to school anymore’. That is why I am here. We are very tired. We don’t have jobs. They kill us every day. To be a refugee…We are also human beings. We also have our rights,” Rose (Democratic Republic of Congo).

“My son is also abused at school. They always tell him, ‘No matter whether you come to school or not, your future is nothing’ because you don’t have papers. No matter if you get matric or not, you can’t get any job…Another thing is that many of us are widows because our husbands were killed. I am a mother of five children, where am I going to go with those children? I don’t know where I can go. This country is very bitter,” Julia (Democratic Republic of Congo).

“We don’t want to be here anymore. We came here and (South Africans) say that we are welcome but I’ve been here more than 12 years now and right now I have been unemployed for about 8 months. How can you expect people with five children at home to survive?”Claude Kabangu (Democratic Republic of Congo).

“We are here because we want the UN and other organizations to help… refugees, to take us somewhere safeThere is no peace in South Africa, it’s not safe!”  Radja bMugemangango, Uber driver, (Rwanda).

“They are saying foreigners are taking our jobs, … foreigners are taking our womenEverywhere we are facing discrimination, there is no dignity for refugees in this country. We are tired,” Papi Sukami (Democratic Republic of Congo).

“They are killing people without any concern. They know that their government is supporting them (…)Rhetoric from President Cyril Ramaphosa and police minister Bheki Cele has invigorated a divisive sense of hatred among South Africans towards foreigners (…) We are not going anywhere. The government has failed the refugees by not supporting us, and is actually increasing the discrimination. People fear for their lives. Ministers are still instigating violence against refugees. The government you count on to protect you is the same people who are causing you harm, Jean Pierre Balous, the leader of the group.

“In the township where we are living, they are burning down my business, threatening my sister who lives alone with her four children…  He said locals from Samora Machel informal settlement, where he lives, had threatened to rape and kill his sister. We have been losing our brothers and sister every day. There are people who wait for us outside Home Affairs and when we go home try to kill us,Nahimana Mohammed (Burundi).

“I spent two weeks in hospital after he was attacked during a spate of xenophobic attacks in September, in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape I lost everything when they attacked me and robbed my spaza shop…So I am not in a hurry to leave [the protest]. Before they attacked me, they shouted, ‘Who gave you the authority to stay here?’My life is in danger. I am here to demand that UNHCR move me to another country,” (Asad Khan, Bangladesh).

Thus, as we can see in the statements above, there is a state of permanent violence experienced by migrants. And which in their view, they can no longer bear.

The other type of violence is that which is part of preventive policies in times of economic crisis. Successive governments concerned about the social outbursts of the recent near-insurgencies in Ecuador and Chile are trying to avoid pressure on working-class neighborhoods and townships. How? Obviously, being bourgeois governments, they do not seek to solve the demands of the population, but try to control the rage. The government knows that in the pockets of poverty there is a large concentration of foreigners. Thus, the first preventive policy of the South African governments is to reduce the number of foreigners by first resorting to the successive restrictions of the migration legislation and, when that does not work, creating fear, terror, and xenophobia. The xenophobic attacks, applied by workers and poor people living in the most precarious and impoverished conditions of the country, is a way of directing anger and revolts not against the government and its policy of social exclusion, but against the migrant population. The second policy, after getting rid of the foreigners, is to repress the South African blacks themselves.

Resistance and its forms

 Given this, it is possible to follow resistance actions, including in the migrants’ countries of origin. Thus, in the last wave of xenophobia in September, a form of resistance was developed that involved the violent attack on South African capital (in the form of supermarkets, clothing stores, telephone companies, and transport companies) by the population of the countries from which refugees originate. Cyril Ramaphosa’s  government, which already in the election campaign in May this year had made xenophobic statements, tried to fix the situation and speak out against xenophobia, after these acts of resistance. This included sending government representatives to some African countries with the purpose of calming the spirits.

On internal resistance, some actions were taken by migrants and refugees in neighborhoods and trains in which elementary forms of self-defense have developed where people seek to group together and defend themselves together. Already tired, the refugees set off for concrete action and stormed the building of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The occupation of the UNHCR building

On October 8, about 400 people occupied the ground floor of the building where UNHCR is located.

UNHCR was created post-war in 1950 to provide relief, protection and assistance especially to women and children who are victims of persecution because of “their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. In line with UN hypocrisy, UNHCR, unlike other UN agencies, relies on voluntary contributions from donor countries. The indispensable funds for the survival of millions depends on the “charity” of private donors, that is to say the bourgeoisie, who are the ones that generate wars and their consequences.

The UNHCR building, a shopping centre with two entrances in the center of Cape Town, right in the area with the most tourists, is occupied by hundreds of people with their families who have camped there and are only able to leave with a solution for their families’ problems. The willingness to continue this occupation can be confirmed when a pregnant woman left the hospital, gave birth and returned to the occupation, despite the precarious conditions they are facing. That is the spirit of the people who are there. And only reports of daily violence explain the radicality of this movement.

Most intriguing is the complicit silence of trade union organizations such as COSATU and NUMSA. So is the failure of the so-called leftist or progressive parties to be in daily life with the families, help them to get food and sanitation, and denounce xenophobia.

The main demand of the movement is to get visas for other countries to escape the inhumane xenophobic violence to which they are subjected. Countries like Canada, Australia, France, Brazil, and the USA are the countries they dream of going to live. However, the UNHCR are not making this possible. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Felipo Grandi, who was in South Africa, said in his Twitter account that “the government has promised to solve immigrant problems” and that “it expects people continue to manifest peacefully.” Such a statement is very silly, for it is clear that xenophobia is a state policy in the service of the capitalist order.

The radicality of the movement is important for victory, but the so-called progressive organizations and the left must defend the immigrants. After all, the working class is international.


Why emigrate and submit to xenophobic violence?

This question can be answered only if there is an understanding of the deindustrialization process of African countries determined by the World Bank and the transformation of these economies into exporters of mineral commodities. First, we need to talk about the villains in this story. There is a lot of talk about Chinese companies which definitely play a role, but in fact the 10 largest mining companies in the world control mineral exploration on the African continent.

  1. Anglo-American (United Kingdom)
  2. Rio Tinto (Australia)
  3. Vale (Brazil)
  4. BHP Billiton (Australia)
  5. Barrick Gold (Canada)
  6. Freeport-McMoran (USA)
  7. Newmont Mining (USA)
  8. Teck (Canada)
  9. Goldcorp (Canada)
  10. Alcoa (USA)

After the brutal colonization process, the consequences of the transformation from semi-industrialized countries to commodity exporters are catastrophic. Let’s illustrate with some countries.

Zambia, for example, had a small industrial park, which nonetheless guaranteed jobs in production. The deindustrialization process and the consequent return to commodity production made the economy completely dependent on copper production and export. This copper production in the country is controlled by 4 multinational companies, that in turn control 80% of the market in that country. Among them is Barrick Lumwana, a subsidiary of the Canadian Barrick Gold Corporation. Consequently, the country is under a mono-exporting economy that is completely dependent on international copper prices andits fluctuations, which causes the local currency to fluctuate. A study from 2018 showed that between 1997 and 2008, funds for the Ministry of Health fell by $1.1 million a year. For example, in 2015 per capita spending on health was $ 44 and by 2016 it had already fallen to $ 23.

In Ghanain 2016, according to Ghana Central Bank data, $ 5.2 billion of gold production was exported. All of this production was carried out by multinational corporations. Of this $ 5.2 billion, the government received only 1.7% in royalties and income tax. And of this 1.7%, a percentage of only 0.11% was delivered to mining-affected communities as a form of compensation for removal, land grabbing, river contamination and environmental destruction.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has one of the largest reserves of raw materials on the planet, which are essential today. It also has 80% of coltan, is the world’s largest uranium reserve and has 40% of cobalt in just one of the regions, Kasai. It has 30% of the world’s diamond and 50% of the world’s cobalt reserves. The extraction of these minerals, as in Ghana, yields to the state coffers only 2% of the exported value.

In addition to control by mining multinationals, Congolese suffer from other monopolies such as the pharmaceutical industry. Novartis has invested $ 100 million and, together with the World Health Organization (WHO), pledged to reduce child mortality from malaria by 90% by 2030.By 2017, Novartis had already made a profit of $ 49.1 billion from the investment. Everything went well for Novartis and other drug-producing companies until Congolese doctor Jérôme Munyangi discovered a much more effective and cheaper treatment. The WHO-recommended drug only kicks back malaria, but Dr. Munyangi’s medication is more efficient and attacks the last mother cell ridding the sick person, and is more accessible to the local population. However, by defying the big pharmaceutical labs, the Congolese doctor has been threatened with death. On one of his trips to Paris, his notebook was stolen and French imperialism did nothing to investigate the attack on the doctor. This episode is being described by the French press as “Malaria Business”.

What we want to highlight in bringing up these themes is that the processes of deindustrialization and wealth monopolies in various countries of the African continent have generated more poverty and misery among the population, which, in turn, is one of the main reasons for the economic emigration process.

Congolese drafted a minimum program

The occupation of the UNHCR building includes migrants and refugees from various countries in Africa and Asia. With such a diversity of ideas and culture, the Congolese Civil Society has set out to design a minimal program that will help clarify and unify the movement. This program has four basic axes:


* No Human is Illegal / The foreign companies that steal our minerals are illegal.

* Documentation for everyone, now!

* Relocation with residence permit and UN financial aid.

* Xenophobia is a crime against humanity. Prison and punishment for acts of xenophobia.


The Need for the Struggle for Second Independence

The four points presented by the Congolese Civil Society are an important educational step for immigrants and refugees to understand that their suffering has a cause: the capitalists and their agents in government. Realizing that xenophobia is not just a matter of racism, you will understand that it is necessary to fight for Second Independence.

We want to conclude by talking about the second independence. The editor of the International Courier, Alejandro Iturbe, said that:

“In the 20th century, a new form of domination by the imperialist powers developed: semi-colonization. That is, the control of countries that are formally independent in the political realm, but which are dependent and dominated in the economic-financial realm by the old or new imperialist powers (which is why, ultimately, they are also on the political realm). One task has been on the agenda: national liberation or the second and definitive independence[2].

[1]South Africa: The Economic Crisis is Back, and Xenophobia is too. –

[2]Gomes Santos, Adriana (org) – África  Colonialismo Genocídio e Reparação . São Paulo, 2019, Editorial Sundermann, pag 127