On xenophobic violence: Press Release by Pan African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights

10 -September -2019

The entire continent is watching in pain, confusion and anger as South Africa struggles to contain massive social implosion  and manifestations of profound  contradictions. The loss of all life and disunity among Afrikans is everything that progressive formations including the Pan African Network in Defense of  Migrant Rights (PANiDMR) stand against. The symptoms of these contradictions have most recently  leaked into  attacks among  the marginalised and  neglected underclasses, where precarity and desperation co-exist.  State responses include deploying ‘social cohesion’ programmes as a catch all attempt to mop up these violent social conditions.  

The recent attacks  on 13 Africans in South Africa form part of an undercurrent of historical fissures. The nature of  violent  interstate, attacks that have been witnessed in the past seven days pre-date the end of the colonial apartheid  dispensation. In the 1980s what is  now often described as Afrophobia or Xenophobia was mischaracterized  under a blanket of  political violence.

The historical DNA of South African political contestation is embedded in ways of addressing difference that  is situated in the theatre of vanquish and  party political extremism. The bloodshed across urban South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s pre-1994 was partly stoked by various political interests, played out on Black bodies. The necklacing in African communities was the most vivid and vicious instrument to enforce political discipline of real or imagined infractions and betrayals. It was also a marker of deep inter-community distrust primarily among political and ethnic communities. The specter of being labeled as  ‘other’ was sometimes  sufficient cause for comrades to sell each other’s lives in return for their own. The inherent trauma that communities are still carrying with them was largely airbrushed by the  ‘Rainbow’ narrative even though it is clear that centuries of dehumanizing behavior was not going to go away as  new flag was raised.

This occurred in the context of the South African state machinery that  systemically dehumanized and brutalized African people in this country. The colonial imagination legislated and constantly enforced the idea that African people are sub-human interlopers in a racialised and privileged ‘White’ world. This was prescribed through structural enablers like labour, education and land legislation all of which created an intergenerational cohort of African people who would always  be  a marginal , sub class of work horses. In the era of growing unemployment , this too has created a subaltern formation that are fully disposable and for whom the State has no tangible plans beyond ‘social cohesion’ to bring from the margins. 

There are further problems emerging from this. Firstly, South Africa has done very little to alter the social and economic  pathways made available to the African majority in this country. White priviledge through land, economic ownership patterns, social relations and life outcomes has been left virtually intact.  In tandem to this , multiple countries in the global South and across Africa were virtually disemboweled by structural adjustment and ongoing incursion of capital into State power. Instances of civil war and ongoing wars that some States wage against their nations – both often with the ‘ invisible hand’ of Western interests – have resulted in weakened States and limited economic opportunities. 

There are other issues that include the expectation by locals to  have first preference for jobs while many companies choose to employ vulnerable migrants for lower wages, creating working toxic and inevitable class resentment. In addition to this, porous borders with weak and often corrupted border controls, sloppy and complicit police are adding stress to a difficult situation.  Well documented reports of criminal rings run by a section of  African compatriots were a large cause of  the attacks in Tshwane (Pretoria) last week. In many areas including there, police have failed to investigate allegations or make arrests, which contributes to the ‘those people’ narrative rather than situating this within a failed and compromised criminal justice system.

Naturally, there will be movement in search of better lives and perhaps naturally, to  countries that appear to offer the most hope, possibility and for some refuge from political repression.

Tragically for all these periphalised people, the South African state has not deconstructed the machinery of ‘othering’  the most vulnerable and as the Marikana massacre showed, is well able to unleash brutal force against Black bodies, many of whom were migrant workers.  The exodus  of millions of people to South Africa from across the world illustrates a  shared aspiration that they have towards the victory over political apartheid that South Africa still represents. 

And yet co-ordinated and periodic combustions related to inadequate public service delivery, organised labour strikes, student uprisings, and other demonstrations of public anger are a huge part of the character of modern South African politics. A politics steeped in historical trauma, ongoing dispossession, a breakdown in state institutions and frenzied attempts by the government to ‘act normal’ for the benefit of international investors while the underclass of all nationalities battle for scarce resources in the most brutal ways. Local and migrant Africans across the African continent are exhausted by the wait for something more from our governments. 

Self-serving elites have driven many African compatriots to South Africa only to find that many South African political actors have fallen into a similar abyss of myopic disregard for the masses. The statements issued  by President Ramaphosa in recent days lacked empathy, class analysis and any semblance of a Pan African understanding of how deeply embedded our fates are tied together as African countries. This is an opportunity to raise a challenge to our African leaders to create nations that are nourishing and  accountable. Nations that appreciate the talents at their disposal, create environments where all Africans can thrive and contribute. The retaliatory attacks on South African businesses across the continent ultimately hurt the marginal and working classes yet again and though this may be a  temporary ‘blue eye’ for White owned corporations, it only fuels more resentments while eroding authentic African  economic and political agendas. 

 At the time of writing, 13 Africans are reported dead, 8 of whom are  thought to be South Africans. Most regrettably, attempts by formations such as PANiDMR and Trade Collective to obtain the names and countries of origin from relevant  authorities have so far yielded no results. Beyond dying a dehumanising death, our family members have died namelessly. So emblematic of the State’s careless, dispassionate relationship with the underclass. PANiDMR sends heartfelt condolences to the families, friends, communities of the Africans killed over the past week and all the years before. We pray that the death toll of 13 will not rise further and renew our commitment to building a Pan African vision that affirms and valorises African lives and Black lives in and out of the Diaspora.

(Photo Credit: News24 / Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

On (mis)representation: Baltimore, El Paso, violence, death

I moved from Europe to Baltimore more than 25 years ago. I came to develop a kind of chauvinistic attachment to this peculiar city. After all its nickname is Charm City. Baltimore is slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, post slavery. 2/3 of the city is black. The white establishment of the city and the state incessantly try to sweep under the carpet these elements of its past and present. A segregated city with liberal feelings, Baltimore developed as an industrial city in the 19thcentury with one of the most active ports in the United States. Certainly, the tensions from the industrial revolution to deindustrialization are colored by the stigmata of slavery, racism. 

Baltimore got its international fame with the series The Wire described by its author David Simon as a “Greek tragedy for the new millennium,” in which institutions such as the police had increasing power with growing impunity, in part due to the lack of oversight from the state government which has controlled the Police Department since its inception. David Simon explained that the series showed “the triumph of capitalism over human value.” Nevertheless, Baltimore is a place of resistance and debate, a place where people are trying to imagine a sense of community despite class, gender, race/ethne systems that are part of the history of Baltimore and the United States.  

On July 30th, the 45thpresident of the United States missed a chance to celebrate the 290th anniversary of the creation of the city of Baltimore, but he never misses an occasion to express his basic racism and xenophobic political ideals. His attacks on Baltimore particularly the Baltimore of Elijah Cummings, in short Black Baltimore (Cummings represents the 7thMaryland’s district, which encompasses over half of the city of Baltimore), is his latest strike on humanity. For a president who has made a career in reality shows, it is difficult to understand the true reality of an abusive system of police, justice, poverty and violence generated by a capitalistic society that reduces human dignity to a racialized, gendered determination of human value. The murder by police of Freddie Gray in the streets of Baltimore is one example. Why did Freddie Gray decide to run away from police?  When people demanded justice for Freddie Gray, the entire city was punished. Remember, Baltimore is where Central Booking was invented, where the parallel economy of narcotics trafficking is a variable to undermine any emancipation of the Black community. But none of that was expressed by the president of the nation, because he is just president for the racist and xenophobic part of the population oblivious to its history.  

There is a special spirit of resistance in Baltimore, as the day that followed the last presidential election reminded me. A bar near Penn Station, the train station of Baltimore, put a sign on the sidewalk saying: “Happy Hours, it’s a terrible day”. The sign was inviting in the bleak context of the day and the years to come to enter a nondescript place. The crowd inside was mainly Black and some White, the discussion was about resisting and the sense of solidarity was present. 

Donald Trump was designated 45thpresident of the United States. He immediately demonstrated an unapologetic and nasty understanding of what wielding power means. His caricatural, white supremacist, misogynistic position is not new but as the president, he supposedly must have attempted to be the representative of the people of the United States, all of them. I am joking!  His base is white, some are supremacist, other have simply grown up cajoled by the idea of the natural superiority of their race or their social position. His base and his financial and business supporters are now the only nation. 

On this basis, he aimed at four women of color, duly elected members of Congress, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar.  The four congressmembers have been the target of outrageous utterances and threats coming from the occupant of the White House. He accused them of hating the United States, advising them to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they come. For clarity, three are American born and Omar came as a refugee when she was 11. These muckraking comments indicate that xenophobic, anti-feminist hatred is part of his campaign strategies for 2020, but beyond this is a sign of the desperate attempt to maintain white supremacy as well as the supremacy of the capitalist neoliberal system that has been under the control of the “non-representative” leaders of this world. 

Instead of being vilified, the four women should have been applauded for their achievements, their commitment against oppression and marginalization. Their constant engagement against the villainy of the current immigration policies pushed by the president, the violence of the treatment of refugees. They should be an inspiration for anyone who thinks about representing a population. 

Representation is at the heart of the current political tensions surrounding elections. These women were elected on a ticket that demanded health care not health insurance, respect for the dignity of asylum seekers, respect for women’s rights and for the principle of the law and justice. 

Representation is a gendered and racialized battle field. When the leader does not obey the community, he (rarely she) commands the community in response to their votes. The struggle is global, the rise of extreme right intolerant voices has many causes; the responses should encompass the ideals of an open participatory democracy. This utopian vision is far from the reality in Baltimore and elsewhere in the United States. Black lives still don’t matter, women are still persecuted for wanting to decide when to be pregnant and keep their body safe, all that in the reality of climate change. Vested interests still manage the system of representation in the United States and in the globalized world. It’s time to end misrepresentation. In the United States, after this deadly week-end, we see once more that racist, xenophobic representatives entail xenophobic violence that leads to killing. End misrepresentation now. 

(Photo Credit 1: Baltimore Sun / Julio Cortez / AP) (Photo Credit 2: Vox / Mario Tama / Getty Images)

No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

Mathabo Mofokeng

Mathabo Mofokeng is 86 years old. She is a citizen of the Republic of South Africa. She was born in Matatiele, at the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, in the Eastern Cape. She is a citizen of South Africa; Mathabo Mofokeng is South African. Mathabo Mofokeng currently lives in Nhlazatshe, a village in KwaZulu-Natal. Mathabo Mofokeng has lived in KwaZulu-Natal since she was 18 years old. Three months ago, Mathabo Mofokeng lost her ID card and her South African Social Security Agency, SASSA, card. Without those, she couldn’t access her pension. Penniless, she relied on food donations from women in her church. Her electricity was cut off. So, Mathabo Mofokeng did what she was supposed to do. She travelled to the nearest Home Affairs office, in Pietermaritzburg, to have her ID and SASSA cards replaced. An official told her “to go back to Lesotho”. Mathabo Mofokeng says, “I’m scared to go back to Home Affairs offices. An official told me she can’t issue me a new ID; I should go back to Lesotho. There was a time I went three days without food.” Mathabo Mofokeng is an 86-year-old, destitute South African woman who is now terrified and terrorized as well. And she is not alone.

On the one hand, xenophobia is not new to South Africa. Since 1994, the national government has periodically worked to “secure the borders”. With national elections coming up, political parties across the spectrum are ramping up the rhetorics of xenophobia. One hears repeatedly that Home Affairs is in disarray, but the situation goes much further than accidental shambles. For twenty years, Home Affairs so-called Refugee Reception Offices have been a publically acknowledged atrocity. Three years ago, the Supreme Court of Appeals told the Home Office to clean up its act. For three years, the Home Office has refused.

Of course, South Africa is not alone in its xenophobia. In India, Assam has effectively told 4 million citizens that they’re not citizens. The majority of the 4 million are, predictably, women. They’re not Indian enough. In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini is trying to find ways to strip Roma citizens of Italy of their citizenship. They’re just not Italian enough. In Australia, Huyen Tran, a Vietnamese asylum seeker, faces imminent deportation. She has been in Australia since 2011. She has a six-month-old daughter, Isabella, born in Australia. Isabella can stay, but her mother is just not Australian enough. In the United States, hundreds of migrant children, forcibly separated from their parents, have been moved “under cover of darkness” to a tent city in the Texas desert, where they have been left to rot. This comes just weeks after the United States government threatened to remove citizenship from more than a thousand Latinx U.S. citizens, all delivered by midwives in the borderlands.

This is the world in which a State official told Mathabo Mofokeng, a South African native born citizen, to go back to Lesotho. Despite its Latinate appearance, xenophobia is a fairly recently coined word, a word that emerges in the late 19thcentury with the emergence of strong nation-States engaged in global imperial adventures. And what is xenophobia? A deep antipathy, call it hatred, to guests, strangers, and foreigners. Xenophobia doesn’t `merely’ target those born in other lands. Xenophobia targets the citizenship, humanity, personhood, and dignity of anyone deemed foreign, anyone thought to be a stranger, and, most significantly, anyone who is a guest. After reporters began investigating, Home Affairs issued Mathabo Mofokeng a temporary ID. In this brave new world, all it takes to secure your citizenship is a team of investigative reporters. Everyone, say it together: No hate no fear, immigrants and citizens, guests and strangers, are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: GroundUp / Nompendulo Ngubane)

No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

Last Friday, during a National Public Radio show’s Friday News Roundup of domestic news, four panelists briefly discussed the Day Without Immigrants actions that had taken place across the country the day before. One prominent conservative correspondent noted, “There seemed to be a little conceptual confusion over immigrants and illegal immigrants.” There was no conceptual confusion among those who protested and their supporters. They chanted, “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” Not “legal”, not “illegal”. Immigrants. Immigrants, children of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants have seen how ICE agents act. They know the raids are indiscriminate, and they know the actions, and many of the actors, are compelled by a xenophobia that is informed by white supremacist racism, the intersectional form of terror of the current regime.

The Muslim Ban, the anti-immigrant raids and sweeps, the language of intimidation and threat were never about the niceties of documentation. Muslims, including non-Muslims perceived to be Muslims, saw that, at certain airports, the ban meant anyone with “a certain name or look” was subject to particularly invasive and insulting attention. In every sense, those actions were unwarranted.

Over the last week, raids have targeted people at residences, churches, homeless shelters, and courts. In El Paso, a woman filing for a protective order from an abusive partner was picked up. In Alexandria, Virginia, two men leaving a homeless shelter were taken. Across the country, people without criminal records were taken away. ICE’s response? The reports are “false, dangerous and irresponsible” and those “falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support.” Those “false reporters” include U.S. Senators and Representatives, Governors, members of the clergy, attorneys, eyewitnesses, family members, neighbors, passersby, cameras, and the list goes on. In Virginia, where I live, Governor McAuliffe, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner have written letters to Homeland Security and still await a response.

This past weekend, new directives “dramatically expand the scope of enforcement operations”.  These “sweeping new guidelines … empower federal authorities to more aggressively detain and deport … inside the United States and at the border.” In the places where people of color live, dramatic expansion and more aggressive detention add up to a reign of terror. That terror threatens everyone. It threatens the undocumented, as it threatens tech workers, seasonal workers, students and others protected by a visa.

Immigrant of color communities know that, when it comes to people of color, those in charge don’t distinguish among the undocumented immigrant, documented immigrant, and citizen. Their response has been clear: “No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!” There is neither conceptual nor ethical nor existential confusion here: No hate, no fear, IMMIGRANTS are welcome here!

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Revolución Real Ya)