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2 March 2017

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Latest Xenophobic Attacks in South Africa: Build United Mass Movement to Fight Discrimination and Joblessness

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), the Nigerian section of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), condemns the wave of xenophobic attacks that has occurred in some parts of South Africa, precisely Pretoria West. These attacks have seen physical assaults of Africans, especially Nigerians, and destruction of their properties running to several millions of rand. This attack by a very desperate tiny minority of the South African population reflects the growing, yet unmitigated suffering by the working and young people of South Africa. Just like similar, albeit worse, xenophobic crisis in 2008 and 2015, the cries for jobs are again echoed by these desperate layers of the South African population. This shows that there has been little progress in terms of improvement in the living conditions of young people and working class in South Africa since the end of Apartheid over 20 years ago.

In spite of the rhetoric of the ANC governments about improvement, and despite the enormous mineral, industrial and material wealth of the country, more and more people are becoming desperate and needy. This is a reflection of the continuation of the capitalist system and adoption of the neo-liberal market ideology after the end of the apartheid rule. While allowing a very tiny layer of black elite to be incorporated into the top layer of the economic and political system, it has denied more and more youth and working class people better lives. It is this reality that the xenophobia fed into.

Working class organizations, unions, community movements and Left organizations in South Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa must build united movements of working people and youth to resist this degeneration of social consciousness into racist agenda. There need to be built local, democratically based, vigilance groups and mass meetings at workplaces, communities, etc. to not only resist the attacks but also build movements to demand for decent jobs for all, improved social services and better working conditions.

While the argument that more and more people are jobless in South Africa is true, blaming the immigrants for this is totally wrong and counterproductive and, if unchallenged, allows the ruling class to escape responsibility for the crisis of its own system.

The current economic crisis that has denied South Africans jobs and better living conditions is rooted in the capitalist system that ensures that the few capitalist big business continue to amass wealth at the expense of the society's majority. Only by a workers' and poor government taking the power of ownership of the economy from the hands of the capitalist class and putting the enormous wealth (mineral, technological, natural, industrial, etc.) into public ownership with democratic planning, can we be able to meet the needs of the people. Resorting to xenophobia and racism is a counterproductive method of protest. It provides justification for further exploitation of the working class by capitalist plunderers and the capitalist political class. Aside dividing the working class and thus making collective mass actions against capitalist exploitation and plundering difficult, it also gives the capitalist class the leeway to continue to exploit the working class.

We have seen this repeatedly in other African countries. In West Africa there were mass expulsions from Ghana in 1969 and from Nigeria in both 1983 and 1985. Moreover, it diverts attention away from the iniquities of the capitalist politicians in power. For instance, xenophobic attacks provide justification for capitalist employers to drive down working conditions of immigrant workers. But this will not lead to better conditions for South African workers, as the same desperation for jobs will be used to employ them on poor working conditions.

Xenophobic attacks in 2008, which led to death of scores of immigrants did not lead to improvement in the conditions of South Africans, neither did the one of 2015 put more South Africans into jobs. Thus racism and xenophobia cannot be a way out for working people. At best, it helps local politicians to find ready tool to seek power using racist and racial rhetoric. What is needed is a united movement of the working class and youth, both immigrants and South Africans, to demand for decent jobs for all, improved social services, better working conditions and more importantly a socialist society that will use public wealth for public needs.

However, the latest xenophobic attacks in South Africa, as much as it reflects the failure of neo-liberal capitalism in South Africa, also shows the desperate situation Nigerian government has put many young Nigerians into. Many Nigerians are daily forced into seeking better opportunities outside Nigeria as a result of the debilitating conditions of living that have made the country a dream-killer and a form of hell for millions of young people. Millions are thrown into the labour market every year, with little or no jobs to for them. Within the last one and half years, more than 4 million people have been added to the jobless population. Education is in shambles while social services rot away. It is these realities that have pushed more and more Nigerians outside. The rhetoric by Nigerian politicians, who are feigning fake nationalism and thus fanning the ember of racism, is misplaced. As much as the South African government and capitalist class are to be blamed for the xenophobic attack, so are Nigerian capitalist class and government.

While socialists support the rights of working people across the world to move freely and seek better conditions, we however, do not support capitalist economic policies that made people miserable and desperate and oppose racist migration controls. Socialists oppose both the capitalists using migrants as cheap labour and their encouragement of racism and anti-migrant sentiments in order to divide working people. We strive to build a united movement of working people. Therefore, we call on Nigerians not to be hoodwinked into some form of retaliatory actions. We cannot combat one form of xenophobia with another. The call for sanctions against South African companies in Nigeria will only hurt working people in Nigeria as well as working people in South Africa. It is Nigerians that are working in these companies that will be the first casualty of such retaliatory action. Moreover, South African workers will be the ones to offset the economic dislocation caused to affected companies by such retaliatory action.

Furthermore, Nigerians should not be carried away by the diplomatic niceties being undertaken by Nigerian government. All capitalist governments implement exploitative policies against the working people, in order to defend the capitalists' economic interests. Therefore, we cannot rely on their solutions to the crisis that their policies caused in the first instance.

What are needed are united mass actions of working people and youth in Nigeria against capitalist policies that have made living hellish for Nigerians. Labour movement in Nigeria need to wake up the historic duty of defending the working people and youth. There is also the need for solidarity actions with working people across Africa and globally. This is the surest means of fighting racism and xenophobia. For instance, the DSM in Nigeria showed solidarity in support of the working people in 2012 when mine workers were killed in Marikana, South Africa. This is the kind of movement we need to unite the working people and combat divisive tendencies such as xenophobia and racism.

Xenophobia and racism also reflect the failure or absence of working class struggle platform that unites the working people and youth across ethnic and racial divide. As much as xenophobia against Nigerians in South Africa is bad, it is worth stating that the absence of united working class movement has generated local tribal divisions among Nigerians. However, both xenophobia and tribalism have a common solution: building a united working class platform to fight for better working conditions, decent jobs for all, improved social services and socialist society.

Dagga Tolar
Acting General Secretary
Democratic Socialist Movement