The crisis caused by the coronavirus is being exploited by the government as an excuse to repress those it has always wanted to repress. There have been illegal and violent evictions in all the major cities, and for weeks our movement was specifically targeted for violent daily attacks in Durban.
Our members, neighbours, comrades and fellow human beings who were born in other countries are also facing serious discrimination from a xenophobic state during this crisis.
From the time that our movement was first formed in 2005, we made no distinction between people based on the country or province in which they were born. The strength of our movement is in the occupations and the unity between families and neighbours. We have always worked on the principle that if you live in an occupation you are from that occupation and you have the same rights as every other resident of that occupation, including the right to participate in all discussions and to accept nomination for elected office. We are proud that people born in different provinces and countries hold elected positions in our movement. We invite migrant organisations to participate in and address our assemblies and rallies. When there have been xenophobic attacks we have always committed ourselves to shelter and defend the people under attack.
The politicians always try to divide us by telling people that they are not getting secure access to land, or services, or houses, because there are people born in other provinces and countries in their communities. We always resist this. A person is a person where ever they may find themselves. The strength of the oppressed is in our unity.
When the coronavirus crisis started the first thing that the government did was to build a very expensive wall along the border with Zimbabwe. Now people who were born in other countries are being denied access to food parcels. Communities that are being told that ‘foreigners’ will be deported before their settlements are ‘de-identified’. Senior people in government are saying that when people are allowed to go back to work jobs must be reserved for South Africans and that businesses with ‘too many foreigners’ will not be allowed to reopen. All this talk from the South African government of ‘putting South Africans first’ is no different from the language of Donald Trump. They are trying to divide the oppressed and to encourage us to blame our own neighbours and comrades rather than the government and the capitalists for the worsening impoverishment in which we find ourselves.
The government keeps saying that ‘putting South Africans first’ is not xenophobic but this is no different to racists wanting to be able to keep being racists while denying that they are racists. All things must be given their true names. The work to ensure that all things are given their true names is important political work. Just as racism is racism xenophobia is xenophobia and we wish to say clearly that our government is deeply and deliberately xenophobic.
After the escape from the notorious Lindela ‘repatriation centre,’ people from African and Asian countries are being forcibly ‘repatriated’. People from the UK and the USA are being treated with dignity and voluntarily sent home if they so wish. The racism that drives the government’s xenophobia is clear.
We have been providing food to our members who are not able to access grants. We make no distinctions on the basis of the province or country in which people were born. In some branches we have also set up communal kitchens, in which men and women are encouraged to share the work of cooking, to make food available to all our neighbours. Many people who were born in other countries are eating from these communal kitchens. This is not a case of South Africans helping migrants. It is a case of residents and neighbours working together to build mutual aid and solidarity. There are people born in other countries who are helping with the cooking and people born in South Africa who are only eating because they have access to communal kitchens.
We will never deviate from the principle that a neighbour is a neighbour and a comrade is a comrade no matter where they were born.
We call on our trade unions, residents’ associations and all other progressive forces to take a clear and strong position against the xenophobia that is being pushed by the government while popular organisation and mobilisation have been radically restricted during this crisis.