11 May 2010

Xenophobia, an attack on the NDR

CU, NDR, Extra

Second Anniversary of the start of the “xenophobia” pogroms in Alexandra Township

11 May 2010

The CoRMSA report called May 2008 Violence Against Foreign Nationals in South Africa (1.8 MB PDF, cover illustration above) is out today, exactly two years after the event in Alexandra Township that was copied in many parts of South Africa in the weeks that followed, during which scores of lives were lost and thousands of people were dispossessed and displaced.

This document is highly relevant to any assessment of the nature and purpose of South Africa’s National Democratic Revolution. The document is a mixture. It is not free of the kind of objective idealism (post-modernism) that attributes human actions to conditions of original sin as opposed to political agency. Yet it also contains quite clear statements that point towards the shortfall in organisation of the population on National Democratic Revolutionary lines.

For example, the following shocking passages refer to the very first incidents, and they confirm that these incidents were politically organised:


Respondents report that a large number of residents, men and women, participated in the attacks. The majority were hostel dwellers, according to some respondents. Some in the area were reportedly coerced to join but the majority said that they participated voluntarily. There is a general agreement that the attacks were planned and led by Zulu-speakers from the hostels (Nobuhle and Madala) under the leadership of Indunas and the CPF Sub-Forum. Asked whether local leaders were involved, the Alex FM radio news editor responded:

“They were involved, even if they can’t come out and admit it openly; they were not surprised, they were happy; when I called them, they did not want to come on air to address people. They were also saying: ‘they [foreigners] should go’. […]There were secret meetings at Madala Hostel. It’s a dangerous place, people have guns; the police are also scared to go there. Meetings are still going on at night.” (Interview the News Editor of Alex FM. Alex, 2 September 2008)

An official of the Alexandra SAPS Victims Support Unit also reports that planning meetings were organised by local leaders. She said:

“Meetings were held that side… from 1st to 8th Street. It’s probably in those meetings where attacks were organised; but in the end the whole town bought in.” (Interview with an official of the Alex SAPS Victims Support Unit. Alex, 3 September 2008.)

The local leaders’ role was not only limited to the planning of the violence; they led and were actively involved in carrying out the attacks. The members of the men’s focus group were surprised when asked what leaders did to stop the violence. One of them said: “No, you are missing the point. Leaders were with us at all times. They directed us on where to go and when.” Another member of the focus group who participated in the attacks testified further: “Every time they entered the site, they wanted South Africans to join. Even myself I joined but I was at the back. I was not carrying sticks and spears as the leaders in front.” (Men’s focus group interview. Alex, 5 September 2008) Respondents revealed that women were also actively involved in the attacks, especially in pointing out where foreign nationals lived. A woman confirmed:

“What can I say? I would say they do not like them. Even women. Normally the first person during any violence is always a woman. This violence was no different, it was mothers who were leading and pointing out where foreigners lived.” (Interview with respondent A1D7. Alex Sector 2, 1 September 2008)

Later on in the 234-page report, which includes many studies of specific areas, the question of leadership is discussed very directly, as here for example:

Absence of institutionalised leadership

Where the violence occurred, there was an absence of institutionalised, legitimate and trusted leadership that could represent the full diversity of the residents. Such an absence led to the emergence of informal, self-appointed structures that almost completely appropriated the authority constitutionally mandated to local government structures, operating as an ‘untouchable’ parallel leadership. Examples of these include the ‘comrades’ in Itireleng, ‘izinduna’ in Sector 2 Alexandra, Gauteng Civic Association (GACA) in Atteridgeville, the Masiphumelele Development Forum (MDF) in Masiphumelele, and the ‘Advisory Centre’ in Du Noon. Even for those commonly known community leadership structures such as Street Committees, Block Committees, CPFs, SANCO, and so on307, the local government represented in theory by ward councils has no say in their membership, the nature of their mandate, or the character of their operational and disciplinary procedures.

As discussed in different case studies, community leadership is an attractive alternative for the largely unemployed residents of the informal settlements. It is a form of paid employment or an income-generating activity where supposedly voluntary leaders often charge for services, levy protection fees, and sell or let land and buildings, and take bribes in exchange for solving problems or influencing tender processes. The profitability of community leadership positions attracts considerable infighting and competition for power and legitimacy among different groups present in affected areas. Indeed, street committees, Community Policing Forums (CPFs) and South African National Civics Organisation (SANCO) members in most areas report involvement in solving all sorts of problems community members bring to them. In Madelakufa 2, for instance, respondents report that the CPF, whose mandate is – according to the local CPF leaders – ‘exclusively fighting crime’, also involves itself in solving socio-economic an service delivery issues. In Du Noon, the local SANCO, which the other local leaders call a ‘family business’ constantly battles the ward council when negotiating development projects with donors. In Atteridgeville, GACA, reported to be behind the violence, was, at the time of fieldwork, organising a parallel reintegration programme and was fighting with the local council for allocated government funds.

For local political players, organising attacks on and removing ‘unwanted’ foreign nationals from affected communities has proven one of the most successful strategies for earning their constituencies’ trust while gaining additional legitimacy, clients and revenues. As mentioned above, the xenophobic violence in most affected areas was organised by those parallel structures and/or by some self-serving members of formal institutions, who capitalised on residents’ feelings, fears and negative attitudes towards non-nationals. Their help in ‘resolving’ this bitterly felt problem served to demonstrate a superior efficacy in ‘crime’-fighting, compared to formal police, and greater empathy with residents concerns, compared with elected and municipal structures, thus consolidating their identity as the only ‘true’ leaders. By removing foreign nationals, local political and community leaders sought to appropriate local state authority for localised political and economic interests. While, to many outside observers, violence against foreign nationals in affected areas appeared to be a spontaneous community uprising, the study shows that it is in all observed cases engineered and fuelled by influential individuals and groups that have direct and self-centred interests to serve.

Elsewhere, examples are given of communities where xenophobic attacks did not occur in this period, even though there were documented attempts of incitement in such areas. As the report says: “the critical factor was the ability of leadership to represent and look out for the interests and safety of all residents. Unfortunately not all communities are lucky to have this kind of leadership.”

Luck or political action?

The CoRMSA report is clearly unable to recommend the kind of organisational initiatives that would result in “leadership [able] to represent and look out for the interests and safety of all residents.” That would be a job for the Communist Party.

Hence, the many recommendations that the report makes do appear rather marginal, palliative or contingent.

Whereas the proper lesson here is the continuation of the National Democratic Revolution in terms of democratic political organisation in all areas.

Context and Conclusion

CoRMSA now believes, following many hearsay reports that is has received from ordinary people, that there are “Real Threats of Mass Xenophobic Violence after World Cup”, and they have issued a statement to this effect which can be read here.

The May/June 2008 attacks took place in the charged post-Polokwane atmosphere when Thabo Mbeki was still President and the security forces were under the command of his allies – some of whom later defected to COPE. It was the time when more than one alliance leader felt obliged to announce that he would “die for Zuma” if necessary.

Clearly, the answer is not to “die for Zuma” but rather to organise for the National Democratic Revolution. In this sense the contest of Polokwane and the solution to “xenophobic violence” can be taken as one and the same struggle.

Those fascists and semi-fascists who want chaos and the defeat of the NDR in South Africa will take the opportunities that they find. The way to close off such opportunities is to do what the SACP Constitution prescribes: Educate, Organise, and Mobilise.



Post a Comment

Post a Comment