A Daily Vox article doing the rounds ‘Five moments from the Durban Peace March that aren’t helping with xenophobia’ seems to have met with broad agreement, the gist being: the ‘Peace March’ wasn’t a good idea; it was politically opportunistic; the privileged liberals who took part had little comprehension of the complexity and direness of the situation; it has caused further polarisation and led to more violence. Abahlali baseMjondolo also rightly wonders why the legal march they supported on the 8th April against xenophobia – organised by the Congolese Solidarity Campaign, the Somali Association of South African and other migrant organisations – was violently prevented from taking place by the police and then a week later, the KwaZulu-Natal government goes ahead and organises its own march? But despite the questions and suspicions, they say: “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 … and undertaking small acts of solidarity like arranging for South Africans to fetch 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.”
Although there are many well-founded misgivings about the ‘Peace March’, I’m not sure why exactly it should be viewed in such a negative light. Whichever way one looks at it (and even if it needed establishment leaders to help make it happen), it was an amazing display of progressive, positive People Power, something we haven’t seen in a while, and surely a crucial element in ending xenophobia is for ordinary people, from all walks of life, to make a stand together and demonstrate that this is not where most South Africans come from? Also, why can’t The People make out of this what they want? Are we just the pawns of the popular and the powerful? They may use the opportunity to strut in the limelight but that doesn’t mean it has to be only to their advantage. The People can still own the march and use it to build a HateMustFall (or alternative) movement that broadly encompasses everything we are struggling against, not just xenophobia.
Sure there were ‘privileged liberals’ at the march (again, why exactly is that so lamentable?) and there certainly wouldn’t have been such a turn out if it weren’t for the politicians, preachers and pop stars pulling out all the stops and paying for the t-shirts, the professionally printed flyers, banners, posters, the ‘Peace Bus’, the Brass Band … and of course making sure they got as much publicity and political mileage out of it as possible. But VIPs and privileged liberals stood out like sore thumbs in the crowd and were probably only a couple of hundred all told so it’s really misleading to suggest that the around 7000 who participated fell into any of these categories. Other positives are that such a large show of support may have helped raise the morale of those being targeted, and demonstrated to a watching world that South Africans are still capable of rallying against injustice.
On the charge that the march caused more polarisation, one hardly knows where to start! Since the end of Apartheid, South Africa has come to be perceived by many as a kind of African US that acts as a magnet for people from war-torn and poorer countries to the north seeking ‘the South African dream’. Sadly, certain South Africans also seem to suffer from the same delusions as Americans … South Africa is the Greatest Country in Africa, Land of the Free and Nelson Mandela … not to mention being insufferably arrogant and entitled on occasions. South Africa is also burdened with many of the same afflictions as the US: a violent history rooted in slavery and colonialism; a deeply conservative population (both black and white) that ironically has a very limited understanding of the democracy they supposedly champion; dangerously unequal distribution of wealth; huge numbers of poorly educated people who are being simultaneously dumbed down and fired up by the relentless messaging of corporate maggots crawling into their heads, and the shiny allure and false promise of what material wealth will bring no matter how it is acquired. Everywhere, a celebrity-worshipping culture combines with obesity, bling and a seemingly bottomless craving for more. Inevitably this culture fuels ignorance, hatred and crime … and the result? From being a world-wide inspiration, South Africa (like an unhappy mimic of America) is instead gaining a reputation as one of the most stupid, hate-filled, crime-ridden societies in the world. But that’s far from a true picture of South Africa so it’s up to The People to challenge this simplistic stereotyping.
The hard to handle fact of the matter (which is in no way their fault because Apartheid delivered a third rate education and caused possibly irreparable psychological damage) is that we’re now facing the brutalised so-called ‘Lost Generation’ many warned about, and which is exponentially growing because the ANC government has messed up so badly in the ensuing 21 years. They could have made major inroads into addressing the deep-seated problems that were the legacy of Apartheid if they’d stuck to the ethos of the Freedom Charter and the RDP, and provided basic needs and quality education to the people who put their faith and trust in them. But they chose the path of GEAR/macro-economics and personal enrichment. This ‘Lost Generation’ has every reason to be embittered and hate immigrants (as wrong as this is) because, despite coming from countries that are ‘inferior’ to South Africa, in some cases ruled over by tyrannical dictators and having faced war and genocide for more years than the ANC has been in power, they are often better educated, harder working, more enterprising … so relatively speaking, many begin to thrive in contrast to their South African brothers and sisters.
South Africans have every right to be angry, it’s just they’re misdirecting their anger at foreigners. Everything King Zwelithini and Edward Zuma have said should be read in conjunction with the lack of delivery, corruption, and all round thievery and mal-administration of the Zuma government. How much easier it is to blame foreigners, than examine your own massive failure to fulfil the mandate given by the people – Edward Zuma even has the audacity to mention “wasted taxpayer’s monies”, unabashed it would seem by Nkandla and the huge expenditure that maintaining the Zulu monarchy demands! The king himself is an anachronism, surely only pandered to in our so-called democracy because he ‘rules over’ a huge number of traditional Zulu folk raised to revere him and who are guided by what he says. He therefore has the power to cause exactly the kind of trouble we are currently witnessing and which as a result, is now being investigated by the HRC.
At the march, we had a passing conversation with a journalist from China Central Television (CCTV Africa). He said he’d spoken to many immigrants in the Point Road area and elsewhere and felt the potential for escalating violence was extremely worrying. The immigrants themselves (many refugees from situations South Africans can only imagine even if they did live through Apartheid) are not as helpless as they may appear, and some could well decide to fight back. So all things considered – march or no march – the polarisation is taking place regardless, with outrage against South Africa and South Africans growing. African countries are talking about boycotting South African companies, artists and sports stars and South Africans themselves may soon find out what it feels like to be on the receiving end of violence in other African countries or being repatriated … it’s the hugest irony and déjà vu experience that this is happening all over again just under another name.
As far as the derision directed at the so-called privileged (which tends to be rather self-righteous and in some cases hypocritical), surely it’s about time those who are more fortunate woke up and identified with the desperation the majority of Africans (South African or otherwise) face and began to take some form of visible action to demonstrate their support and solidarity. It’s easy to sneer and be cynical but for the relatively few ‘privileged liberals’ who attended the march to have got there at all was probably quite an ordeal, something many may never have experienced and they would likely have had no idea of what to expect. Just getting to the stadium meant parking some distance away and walking through unaccustomed areas that would have been very daunting. So instead of disrespecting them, why not encourage them in the steps they are taking to change and make a difference, however small the ‘true activists’ perceive these steps to be?
Also, if we go down the road of putting down privileged liberals, we’ll soon be in a quagmire of sham and denial since many of the global movements and marches (including 350 and Occupy) draw on this demographic despite being portrayed as grassroots. Re “Privileged liberals who don’t understand the struggles which have brought on the violence” … in fact none of us get this (not even, and perhaps especially, those embroiled in it), not only because we have not ‘walked in another’s shoes’ but also because most of us have little appetite for complexity or doing the hard work of reading, researching, thinking critically, abandoning our prejudices and countering our pre-conditioned reflexes. Many also have no ability or means with which to do this because they’ve had neither the benefit of education or access to the tools that would enable it. This is the biggest problem and so long as the politicians and fanatics have the megaphones and use the situation for their own ends, it’s not likely to be resolved. Unfortunately, ‘Citizen Journalism’ via social media is also fanning the flames – it’s no more a reliable source of information than the biased mainstream media!
I often feel disillusioned by the perpetual divisiveness that seems prevail, especially when it comes from people who are supposedly on the same side. It’s not about constructive criticism which should always be welcome, but more about a kind of ego trip in which the pronouncers (possibly because they weren’t the initiators) never give credit and are instead more intent on being ‘one up’ and holding some imagined moral high ground that for the average person is simply not realistic or unattainable. Even more disconcerting is the kind of schadenfreude that seems to emanate … is there a competition going on to make some sort of point other than: we (being all people of consciousness and conscience who believe a better world is possible) need to join forces to work things out and find the most fair and decent way to bring about radical change to a corrupt, failing and undemocratic global system (of which South Africa became a pawn and a participant when it abandoned its socialist ideals and instead instituted the worst kind of crony capitalism), and that this process should not result in further violence or cause even more disruption and harm to the most vulnerable.
It also seems many have decided that instead of xenophobia, we are dealing with Afrophobia. This is the preferred term of Jonathan Moyo, the Zim information minister and a wily political opportunist. It’s also been taken up by the South African government, which judiciously avoids the word xenophobia, and has now become the new clarion call of the RhodesMustfall movement. But is it the best word? The preference is perhaps intended to highlight a type of racism that runs counter to the ideals of pan-Africanism and it may help allay the fears of others race groups but it’s not a stretch to imagine this hatred growing and being directed at others. For this and other reasons, HateMustFall seems a better hashtag and xenophobia the more accurate term, being a global phenomenon as the capitalist economic system begins to fail and people everywhere struggle to survive. Xenophobia also neatly pits the poor and working classes against each other instead of focussing on the rotten-to-the core system. We need to be careful that we are not unwittingly playing into the hands of the manipulators by making sure we clearly understand the difference and what we’re up against.
None of this – not the peace march, the RhodesMustFall students scuffling with police outside parliament, not the politicians (Mchunu, Malema or Mugabe) should be allowed to detract from the complexity and seriousness of the situation, nor the fortitude that will be needed to tackle the issues that have led to this terrible and dangerous state of affairs. Addressing this is going to take a joint effort and a great deal of political will. Just maybe, if The People can build on such a high profile demonstration, this will begin to give the few politicians that still have some courage and integrity, the necessary weight and popular support to begin tackling the issues head on and doing the right thing … and we should never forget that every policeman, anti-immigrant South African, and even criminal using the situation to loot and steal – all have a story to tell.
This report by Aljazeera is quite in-depth and balanced, reflecting all sides.
This article examines the use of the term afrophobia.
And some more links to throw light and try to get some of the facts straight:
Despite this article saying the necklacings were vigilantism, there seems to be no definitive answer to the question of whether the youths were from Zimbabwe as this one article claims: “The story goes that 5 young men (3 minors) crossed the border from Zimbabwe to South Africa to rob people. They ended up killing one man and were caught shortly after. Mob justice then took over and the 5 men were doused in kerosene, tied with ropes, then attached to tyres and set ablaze. The result was 3 of the men dying from injuries while 2 managed to live due to police intervention.” If they were, xenophobia can’t be entirely dismissed although on the face of it, it was mob justice for murder.
Photo: At the beginning of the anti-xenophobia Peace March, 16 April 2015. This banner shows that xenophobia is just one symptom of many. We need to cure the disease, and not just focus on the symptoms.