South Africa reaches boiling point

Imraan Buccus Correspondent
The Rainbow Nation seems to be in tatters. It was a dream that carried us out of the possibility of an ongoing civil war in the 1990s. But it always papered over the deep divisions in our society. No national narrative or social compact has been generated to replace the dream of a Rainbow Nation, however. As often happens with national unity, it breaks down our politics — splitting into a series of aggressive and crude forms of chauvinism.

The violence against our fellow Africans in recent days has been truly horrific. This stain will hang over our city and our country for many years to come. We have sunk into a moral and political abyss. Our leaders can forget their plans for major international sports events and a booming tourism industry. All of that now seems lost. Durban has ruined its international reputation.

The terrible events of recent days did not come from nowhere. Many of our leaders have made public statements that are xenophobic and policing has frequently been conducted in a highly xenophobic fashion. The state is not innocent in this. The media is also complicit. There has often been needless fear-mongering about migration and migrants have been subject to all kinds of stereotypes in the media. But ordinary South Africans, of all classes, also share in the responsibility for this disaster. From the RDP houses to the mansions in Musgrave, ordinary South Africans continue to reproduce xenophobic stereotypes. We are collectively responsible for this descent into the moral abyss.

Xenophobia is not the only form of chauvinism afflicting our society. Grassroots activists have been speaking, for some years now, about growing discrimination against people from the Eastern Cape. There have been cases where politicians and officials have been recorded expressing crude prejudices against people from the Eastern Cape.

And in recent weeks crude anti-Indian prejudices have resurfaced again. It was reported that at a recent protest against a colonial-era statue on the campus of UKZN, a person identifying himself as an EFF supporter demanded the expulsion of Indians from South Africa. The EFF has not issued a statement condemning this. In fact EFF leader Jackie Shandu has made public anti-Indian statements and has demanded that Indians be excluded from the category of people considered to be black.

The EFF has a record of grossly unprincipled politics. One of its representatives in this province was actually found guilty of participation in xenophobic violence in 2009.

For a political party claiming to be progressive to allow people who trade in the politics of narrow racial and national chauvinism to hold high office is indicative of the sort of opportunism that has no regard for principle. But the EFF is certainly not the only cause of our problems. In recent days another small group, Mayibuye, (not Mazibuye) attacked Malawians and Ethiopians in Clare Estate.

Residents report that the Mayibuye members involved in this attack have said that Indians will be next.

There are also all kinds of rumours about factionalism within the ruling party being connected to the recent violence. Time will tell whether or not these rumours are true but there is certainly a history of local structures getting involved in xenophobic violence. An ANC councillor was involved in xenophobic violence a few years ago.

Numsa and its United Front have not been a force of any consequence as this disaster has unfolded. However, grassroots organisations such as Ubunye bama Hostela Nezakhiwo Zawo and Abahlali baseMjondolo have taken very clear positions against xenophobia. Some of the religious leaders and organisations — especially Bishop Rubin Phillip and Gift of the Givers, have also come out of this crisis with their moral integrity intact. It is vital that in this crisis progressive religious leaders and formations receive our full support.

But while it is of the utmost urgency that we act to stop the violence, arrest and prosecute the perpetrators, and provide for those that have been bereaved, injured and forced into refugee camps; we also need to think very seriously about how to rebuild an inclusive political vision. One step towards this will require a decisive break with the politics of crude sloganeering on the basis of narrow identities.

For instance, the presentation of all migrants as criminals must simply be stopped. The category of people who are migrants and the category of people who are criminals are not the same; and must never be treated as the same. We also need to act decisively against the collapse into the politics of ethnic and racial chauvinism among South Africans.

All South Africans have a right to live where ever they choose in South Africa, and to be full citizens of this country. Anyone who says that people from the Eastern Cape do not have a right to be in this province, or that Indians do not have a right to be South Africans, must be opposed at every turn. Of course this doesn’t mean that we should be silent about the very real phenomenon of Indian racism. Indian racism must be confronted openly and honestly where ever it rears its ugly heard. But to suggest that all Indians are racists is as outrageous as suggesting that all migrants are criminals. But opposing the collapse into a narrow politics of ethnic, racial and national chauvinism is not enough. In order to really move we need to develop a new vision to replace the myth of the Rainbow Nation. This has to be a vision that takes inequalities seriously and has a real strategy to build a just society. This is difficult work. It requires hard choices. It will mean that capital cannot continue to operate outside of any real social responsibility. — Sunday Independent.