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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 7, No. 8, 21 May 2008

In this Issue:

Red Alert

Back to Basics: Rebuild organisation, defeat patronage and corruption, to defeat the scourge of xenophobia

Blade Nzimande, General Secretary

The current wave of xenophobic attacks must be strongly condemned by all South Africans. So has the SACP expressed its strongest condemnation of these attacks. Not only are these attacks barbaric and inhumane, but this is a hugely embarrassing spectacle for South Africans, both domestically and internationally. This is especially so for those of us who have been such a huge beneficiary of international solidarity. Perhaps that is one of the aims of the clearly planned barbaric attacks on our African working class and poor brothers and sisters, to undermine the international prestige of South Africa and its peoples.

It is not enough merely to express our strongest possible condemnations; we need to take strong and visible action both in the short and medium term. One of the immediate short-term measures must be strong law enforcement as well as preventative legal measures in order to urgently contain the situation.

However, safety and security measures on their own are not adequate. Our organisations, especially alliance and progressive community formations, need to urgently engage communities in affected areas and beyond in order to isolate and deal with those behind these barbaric actions. Indeed, the SACP has instructed its provincial structures to do just that. Our senior leadership will join forces with provincial structures to ensure this engagement is effective.

We should treat these developments as a wakeup call for all our formations, including the state security structures. These developments call for very serious self-reflection, criticism and self-criticism. How does it happen that none of our political or community structures knew about such serious plans to attack `foreigners`? How come the state intelligence structures were also caught unaware? Not only that, even after the eruptions in Alexandra, and the prior events in Tshwane and parts of the Western Cape, why were we not able to prevent these xenophobic acts, and then stop them spreading to Ekurhuleni and other parts of Johannesburg?

To answer these questions, we have to look at some of the underlying causes for xenophobia and its current violent expressions.

Intra-poor struggles: The failures of structural adjustment programmes and predatory capitalism

As we have argued in previous editions, the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes (ESAPs) imposed on virtually the whole of the Southern African region by the IMF since the 1980s, have been an unmitigated failure. Not only did they fail in their promise to improve the lives of the people of our country, but in many instances they even rolled back some of the positive gains that a lot of our countries had made since independence (including gains around access to food and basic services, education and health).

Since 1994, many of the displaced workers and peasants of our region, as well as professionals, have been migrating (legally and illegally) to a democratic South Africa, mostly as economic refugees seeking better opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.

Despite the many modest gains that our own democracy has made since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, our own self-imposed structural adjustment programme, GEAR, failed to make a dent in unemployment (unemployment actually increased dramatically between 1996 and 2006), and eroded the capacity to build a developmental state. It instead became welfarist, with now more than 12 million people relying on social grants of some sort.

The political and economic meltdown in Zimbabwe has put more pressure on South Africa to absorb even more economic refugees from that country, as well as from many other countries.

The net effect of the above developments has been that it has been the poor of South Africa who have had to absorb the poor from our region. This has happened in two ways. Firstly, it is the poor communities in the informal settlements that have had to share their space and minimal resources with the poor from our region. The bourgeoisie and the middle classes have been shielded from the responsibility of carrying the burden of the failure of the ESAPs in our region and the crisis particularly in Zimbabwe, and they are literally shielded behind their high walls in the leafy suburbs. Elites from other countries in our region are also not bearing the brunt of this economic (and political) meltdown.

Secondly, there has been a rapid regionalisation of South Africa`s labour force, especially over the last 8 to 10 years, with an increasing transformation of the division of labour in some of the key sectors of our economy. South Africa`s capitalist class has fully exploited the vulnerability of workers from the rest of our SADC region, more often at the direct expense of South African workers, by paying them slave wages and subjecting them to working conditions that are at variance with South Africa`s labour market regime.

These realities have also not been helped - in fact, they may have been worsened - by the predatory rather than development role of South African private capital in our region. Many South African companies investing in the rest of the continent have fully exploited weak labour market regimes in the region to maximise their profits and are contributing very little to the broader developmental agenda in the region.

It is therefore not the poor from our Southern African region who are stealing the jobs and sustainable livelihoods of South Africa`s workers and the poor, but the predatory practices of the capitalist class, both in South Africa and in the African continent.

The lesson from this is that any notion of an `African renaissance` not accompanied by radical economic policies to change the conditions of the workers and the poor, including challenging the predatory practices of capitalism in the continent, is nothing else but the new and modern opium for the people - a `feel-good` attitude, with no accompanying transformatory measures!

The political economy of our local state

The current violence is also a reflection of the contradictory reality of advances and setbacks in our own local government system. Since the 1994 democratic breakthrough, our government has indeed provided many crucial local services and transformed the undemocratic nature of local government that we inherited from apartheid.

However, these advances have been mediated, and threatened, by the simultaneous new patronage and corrupt practices that have not only engulfed local government, but also the national and provincial government levels.

Whilst most of our councillors are doing great work in their service to our communities, a significant section of our ANC councillors have become so corrupt that their behaviour seriously threatens to undo the many gains we have made since our 1994 democratic breakthrough. For instance, why are housing allocations done by councillors instead of being collectively approved by our municipal councils and management? How come in some areas, councillors directly select people to be employed in municipal infrastructural projects? In many of our areas, such councillors are not accounting to the ward committees and municipal councils, and are thus not representing the interests of our people. They have become nothing more than `indunas` in their wards, with many of the ward committees being nothing but `induna-controlled committees`. We have to confront the fact that many such practices take place in ANC-controlled wards. Some of our own councillors illegally take bribes and allocate `RDP houses` to undeserving people who are both South African and non-South African citizens! These corrupt practices create fertile ground for intra-community conflict and xenophobia, exploited by reactionary and anti-ANC local elites bent on achieving their own narrow political goals.

Our main criticism of the ANC prior to the ANC`s 52nd Polokwane Conference has been that it has been captured by what we have called the `1996 Class Project`, which is an alliance between sections of domestic and global capital, emergent black sections of the (petty) bourgeoisie, mediated by sections of our own cadres occupying key positions within the state. One of the critical outcomes of this has been the demobilisation of the ANC branches and the `colonisation` of the ANC by state structures. This has turned the ANC into nothing more than an electoral party, divorced from the day-to-day struggles of the overwhelming majority of its members and various constituencies.

The current violence against `foreigners` is one particular expression of the weakening and `near-decay` of the structures of the ANC on the ground, and their inability to lead progressive community struggles and failure to detect reactionary plans against our African brothers and sisters.

These events do not only expose an ANC that is incapable of mobilising communities outside of election campaigns, but also a seriously weak SACP. The weakness of the SACP on the ground is a reflection of the combined effect of the extent to which the 1996 class project marginalised SACP and alliance structures in general and the extent to which a number of our SACP structures were actually co-opted by, and actively collaborated with, the 1996 class project dominant within the ANC and the state. This happened in a number of areas in the country.

All these features of the politics and economics of South Africa`s locality have contributed significantly towards the weakening of our organisational structures.


It is clear that given the pattern, planning and timing of these violent attacks, there is a counter-revolutionary agenda, with an eye towards discrediting the ANC and influencing next year`s national elections. This is a well-orchestrated campaign, exploiting the very real frustrations of the poor in our country.

It is indeed possible that these counter-revolutionary forces are exploiting what they see as `divisions` within the ANC and the relative uncertainty of this transitional period between the ANC`s Polokwane Conference and the 2009 elections. It might also be a test of the strength, resilience and capacity of both the ANC and the state to withstand such pressure.

A fundamental question that we have to answer is to what extent we have succeeded in demobilising the counter-revolutionary forces of the 1980s into the early 1990s, and in changing the social conditions of our people that were exploited by these forces at the time? The current wave of violence has all the hallmarks of the violence of the early 1990s, particularly in Gauteng.

Like in the early 1990s, hostels seem to be the main platform from which the current violence is being planned and unleashed.

The urgency of dealing with this situation should also be informed by the fact that there is a real danger that this violence can quickly be transformed into ethnic violence amongst South Africans themselves.

It may therefore be appropriate to consider this violence not just as xenophobia, but as a counter-revolutionary offensive aimed at our movement and at undermining all we have achieved through our democracy.

What is to be done?

Immediate action is required by the security forces to clamp down hard on the violence, with a particular focus on arresting and punishing the perpetrators. It is also of utmost importance for our communities to co-operate with the police in apprehending the perpetrators.

Of particular importance is that out of this tragedy there is perhaps an opportunity to frankly and honestly assess the state of our organisations, identifying some of the decay that was beginning to creep in, and begin a serious process of rebuilding our branch structures throughout the country.

In rebuilding our organisations, it is important also to pose the question of what kind of community structures and organisations we want to foster in our communities. For instance, is the task to rebuild SANCO or to build strong street committees as the new revolutionary nucleus for community organisation, or both?

Whichever way we answer this question, it is important to focus on the building of street committees as a new opportunity to organise and mobilise our communities to fight crime and for these also to be the new revolutionary nuclei around which to pursue our developmental agenda in the locality.

It is also important that organisation of casual and other vulnerable workers is intensified. This must include a deliberate strategy to ensure that all workers from the region are organised into unions. This will lay a stronger basis for fighting against those employers exploiting the vulnerability of those workers from the rest of our region, and will help to build working class solidarity in the workplace and beyond.