[Marxism] The economic roots of South African xenophobia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jun 6 07:37:12 MDT 2008

Xenophobia, Neo-liberalism, and NEPAD:
The End of African Unity?
by Shawn Hattingh


In August and September of 1974, people across the length and breadth of 
South Africa celebrated the coming independence of Angola, 
Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique.  People like Mamphela Rampele led massive 
rallies honoring the success of the liberation movements in these 
countries.  There was even spontaneous dancing in the streets, and the 
air was filled with a sense that South Africa would soon be joining 
these countries in ending racist and capitalist oppression through 
revolution.  This was due to the fact that the defeat of the Portuguese 
Empire in Africa gave South Africans a renewed sense of hope, which was 
one of the catalysts that ignited the 1976 uprisings against apartheid. 
  In those heady days African Unity was not an empty phrase; it was 
rather the ideological backbone of the fight against capitalism, 
imperialism, and apartheid.  By the end of the decade South Africans 
were fighting and dying side by side with Angolans and Zimbabweans in 
the struggle against the racist forces of Rhodesia and apartheid South 
Africa.  People from all over Africa were making massive sacrifices to 
help free their bothers and sisters in South Africa by providing refuge 
and moral and material support on a massive scale.  Hope sprung eternal 
for a united Africa: an Africa that could collectively defeat 
imperialism and gain its freedom.

Fast forward to May 2008. Small groups of South Africans were once again 
in the streets, but there was no dancing and celebration.  This time, 
they were not fighting side by side with Angolans and Zimbabweans; they 
were hunting them down!  Over the last few weeks xenophobic attacks have 
erupted in some areas in South Africa.  The political leaders across the 
country have assured all and sundry that it has only been a small 
section of the population, driven mostly by criminality, who perpetrated 
these attacks.  This, however, does not give the full picture. 
Xenophobia has been rearing its ugly head in this country since at least 
the 1990s.  Within the last few years, various arms of the state, such 
as the police force, have been directly involved in routinely harassing 
people from other parts of the continent.1 The leader of the official 
opposition in the country, Helen Zille, has on occasion accused 
foreigners of being the source of South Africa's drug problem.2  Even 
Jacob Zuma, the darling of sections of the South African Communist Party 
and COSATU, recently told an audience at a COSATU May Day rally in the 
North West that the ANC would take strong measures to restrict the 
"scores of illegal immigrants" in South Africa.3  Of course, since the 
xenophobic attacks began, the likes of Zuma and Mbeki have belatedly 
rallied to condemn them.  Nonetheless, they have been largely unwilling 
to move beyond their simplistic criminality thesis to identify the 
underlying causes that have led to such violence.  In reality it is the 
dire political and economic situation that exists across Africa and 
within South Africa that has created the breeding ground for such 
attacks.  People from all parts of Africa have come to South Africa to 
escape the abject poverty and misery that they have been forced to live 
under in their home countries.  Frustrated with broken promises, 
poverty, and unemployment, some South Africans have turned their anger 
towards these people, blaming them for taking their houses and jobs. 
Yet, the reality is that it is not other Africans that are taking jobs 
and houses away; it is rather neo-liberal capitalism and the legacy of 
apartheid that has done this.  In fact, neo-liberal economic policies 
have caused increasing inequality and increasing competition amongst the 
poor to survive.  The sad irony is that some of the victims of 
neo-liberalism in South Africa have chosen to attack fellow victims who 
have come to this country from other parts of Africa.  This all happens 
while the real perpetrators, who have forced neo-liberalism onto the 
people of South Africa and the rest of Africa, sit smugly in their plush 
downtown Sandton, Pretoria, Sydney, New York and London offices looking 
for new ways to exploit the people and resources of this country and the 
rest of the continent.  In reality, the global elite have waged a 
virtual economic war from their offices and boardrooms against the 
people of Africa and South Africa in order to enrich themselves.  This 
has given rise to the conditions in which xenophobia and other forms of 
ethnic violence can thrive.

full: http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/hattingh050608.html

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