The attacks on African migrants in South Africa are connected to oppression of poor black people in general. To prevent the poor from organizing and standing up to their real enemies, the state is tacitly encouraging 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 baseMjondolo, 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. There were no attacks in any of our communities.
For some time now we have been working very closely with the Congolese Solidarity Campaign. We have been working to build a politic from below that accepts each person as a person and each comrade as a comrade without regard to where they were born or what language they speak. In this struggle we have faced 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 almost ten years of repression.
On the 8 April we supported a march against xenophobia organised by our comrades in the Congolese Solidarity Campaign together with the Somali Association of South African and other migrant organisations. 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. We also noted senior police officers accusing Abahlali: ‘’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 “awahambe “(“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. Once we again we say that 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.
Today we are told that the KwaZulu Natal government is organizing their own march to be held on the 16 April. We ask ourselves why now when the march supported by migrant organisations was banned and attacked. We ask ourselves who will be marching? And who will be receiving a Memorandum and from who? We are now clear and ashamed that just as there has been high level political support for attacks on people from the Eastern Cape there is also support for this violence. There are many in the ruling party who would rather have the poor divided than united and would rather have the poor turning against their neighbours instead of their real oppressors. There are also people who have their eyes on the businesses and homes of others.
Opportunists are emerging everywhere to use this violence to build their own power and to loot. In Clare Estate members of a group whose name is known to us did not only attack and loot Malawians and Ethiopians but forcefully evicted a South African family from a house belonging to an Indian family. This family reported that this group has an official campaign to drive Indians and foreigners out of Clare Estate. When reporting these threats at the Sydenham police station the police refused to open a case against the attackers that are known to the family and the entire community. The state is not doing enough to stop this. Some senior political leaders and police only condemn the violence when on camera and in public spaces but on the side they say “bashayeni” (hit them). It is time we tell the truth about what we are confronted with on the ground, which makes our work extremely difficult. We will not stop this war for as long the police and politicians say one thing for the cameras and another on the ground.
It is very hard for us to organise effective support in this crisis when we face violence from the state and from the groups attacking people on the streets. Many of our members are scared and they are scared for good reason. The attackers have often threatened that Abahlali will be next if we continue to support our African brothers and sisters. We are fully aware that if this happens we will get no support from the police.
We believe this should be a joint fight. After our own meeting that took us the whole day this Sunday we made the following decisions:
1. We will work to support the development of a joint committee against xenophobia made up of South African organisations and organisations representing foreign nationals.
2. We will identify troubled communities and visit those communities to speak to them. We will not, like the politicians, only visit the victims in the refugee camps when the cameras are there. We will visit the communities from which the attackers are coming too.
3. Abahlali will continue working with migrant organisations in all our activities and engaging our members in all the communities where we have branches to bring peace.
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 appealing to all South Africans, even those that are silent, 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 holding meetings – we will hold a meeting in uMlazi in the next hour – and undertaking small acts of solidarity like arranging for South Africans to fetching the children of migrants from their schools and take them to safe places. But it is very difficult to advance a politic of peace in the middle of this kind of violence coming from both the state and other forces.
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.
S’bu. Zikode 083 547 0474
Zandile Nsibande 074 767 5706
Ndabo Mzimela 079 355 6758
TJ Ngongoma 084 613 9772
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