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South African shack dwellers condemn xenophobia: ‘Our African brothers and sisters are being openly attacked’

April 19, 2015

Statement by Abahlali baseMjondolo, a view from below – umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu

There is a war in our city. Our African brothers and sisters are being openly attacked on the streets.

Hundreds march on April 8 in Durban to protest xenophobic violence sweeping the country, as South African resentment explodes, blaming immigrants from other African countries for “taking our jobs.” Many agree that the promises of economic opportunity made at the end of apartheid remain unfulfilled but believe the main culprit is government, not immigrants. – Photo: Rajesh Jantilal, AFP

Hundreds march on April 8 in Durban to protest xenophobic violence sweeping the country, as South African resentment explodes, blaming immigrants from other African countries for “taking our jobs.” Many agree that the promises of economic opportunity made at the end of apartheid remain unfulfilled but believe the main culprit is government, not immigrants. – Photo: Rajesh Jantilal, AFP

In 2008 our movement stood firm against the attacks on people born in other African countries. We committed ourselves to shelter and defend our brothers and sisters. There were no attacks in any of our communities.

For some time now we have been working very closely with the Congolese Solidarity Campaign. We have been working to build a politic from below that accepts each person as a person and each comrade as a comrade without regard to where they were born or what language they speak.

In this struggle we have faced constant attack from the state, the ruling party and others. We have been attacked for having members from the Eastern Cape, members born in other countries and Indian members. We have always stood firm against these attacks. Our movement has survived almost 10 years of repression.

On the 8th of April we supported a march against xenophobia organized by our comrades in the Congolese Solidarity Campaign together with the Somali Association of South African and other migrant organizations. There was a permit for the march and yet the police would not allow it to go ahead.

They stopped people from leaving their communities to travel to the march. They attacked the march with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. One Congolese man was severely beaten by the police with a plank. One of our members, from the Marikana Land Occupation in Cato Crest, had her leg broken during the assault by the police.

We also noted senior police officers accusing Abahlali: “What do you have to do with this march? Why are you supporting them?” One of our comrades from the Eastern Cape was told by the police: “You are from the Eastern Cape. You will cause a war here and then run away to Eastern Cape. Keep quiet.”

We do not know who will be the next. Some of the people who are now attacking people born in other African countries are saying that they will attack the Indians next.

A local taxi driver is attacked during a confrontation with immigrants in the Johannesburg Central Business District on April 15. – Photo: Marco Longari

A local taxi driver is attacked during a confrontation with immigrants in the Johannesburg Central Business District on April 15. – Photo: Marco Longari

But the violence used to expel us from this democracy does not only come from the police. Since 2009 we have also been openly attacked by the ruling party. At the march on the 8th of April there was another march of the so called “locals” who were screaming and saying, “Awahambe” (“Foreigners must go”).

What we noted in this march that went parallel to ours was that it used people working at taxi ranks and drug addicts known as whoonga boys in Durban. Some people had been transported all the way from Port Shepstone to support this march.

We were not only assaulted by the police. We were also threatened and assaulted by this group who said to us: “Why are you supporting these foreigners?” On that day the police were supporting this group.

Despite the violence and intimidation from the police and the “locals,” we made it to City Hall.

Many of the Congolese here in Durban are fleeing war and the destruction of their country. Yet here they are subject to more violence, including from the police. People in the Marikana Land Occupation have also been subject to serious violence, including regular evictions, beatings, torture and assassination.

Yet when we try to unite and to take to the streets to assert that every person is a person, that everyone counts, we are openly beaten by the police. Once again we say that there is no democracy for the poor in this country.

It does not matter which country you were born in or what part of South Africa you come from or what language you speak. If you are poor and Black, you are excluded from this democracy with the open use of violence.

The march on the 8th of April revealed an important lesson. These attacks are well planned and supported by powerful people. When the police began to attack a legal and peaceful march we realized that there was a bigger political plot to attack the march against xenophobia.

When we try to unite and to take to the streets to assert that every person is a person, that everyone counts, we are openly beaten by the police.

Today in some areas the police are just escorting the thugs that are carrying out these attacks. They come in groups to ask for foreigners’ permits to be in South Africa and start stealing and looting. The police have not stopped these attacks.

Today we are told that the KZN government is organizing their own march to be held on the 16th of April. We ask ourselves why now when the march supported by migrant organizations was banned and attacked. We ask ourselves who will be marching? And who will be receiving a memorandum and from who?

A taxi driver throws rocks at a man on the ground in the April 15 conflict in Johannesburg. – Photo: Marco Longari

A taxi driver throws rocks at a man on the ground in the April 15 conflict in Johannesburg. – Photo: Marco Longari

We are now clear and ashamed that, just as there has been high level political support for attacks on people from the Eastern Cape, there is also support for this violence. There are many in the ruling party who would rather have the poor divided than united and would rather have the poor turning against their neighbors instead of their real oppressors. There are also people who have their eyes on the businesses and homes of others.

Opportunists are emerging everywhere to use this violence to build their own power and to loot. In Clare Estate, members of a group whose name is known to us did not only attack and loot Malawians and Ethiopians but forcefully evicted a South African family from a house belonging to an Indian family. This family reported that this group has an official campaign to drive Indians and foreigners out of Clare Estate.

When reporting these threats at the Sydenham police station the police refused to open a case against the attackers that are known to the family and the entire community. The state is not doing enough to stop this. Some senior political leaders and police only condemn the violence when on camera and in public spaces but on the side they say, “Bashayeni” (“Hit them”).

There are many in the ruling party who would rather have the poor divided than united and would rather have the poor turning against their neighbors instead of their real oppressors.

It is time we tell the truth about what we are confronted with on the ground, which makes our work extremely difficult. We will not stop this war for as long the police and politicians say one thing for the cameras and another on the ground.

It is very hard for us to organize effective support in this crisis when we face violence from the state and from the groups attacking people on the streets. Many of our members are scared and they are scared for good reason. The attackers have often threatened that Abahlali will be next if we continue to support our African brothers and sisters. We are fully aware that if this happens we will get no support from the police.

We believe this should be a joint fight. After our own meeting that took us the whole day this Sunday we made the following decisions:

  1. We will work to support the development of a joint committee against xenophobia made up of South African organizations and organizations representing foreign nationals.
  2. We will identify troubled communities and visit those communities to speak to them. We will not, like the politicians, only visit the victims in the refugee camps when the cameras are there. We will visit the communities from which the attackers are coming too.
  3. Abahlali will continue working with migrant organizations in all our activities and engaging our members in all the communities where we have branches to bring peace.

We urge the South African government to take urgent steps to stop the attacks and to arrest and prosecute all perpetrators. We also urge the South African government, all African ambassadors based here and the African Union to work for peace and stability across the whole continent and for an Africa in which land, wealth and power are fairly shared between the people.

Fearing a xenophobic attack, an immigrant holds tight to his knife on the streets of Durban on April 14. – Photo: AFP

Fearing a xenophobic attack, an immigrant holds tight to his knife on the streets of Durban on April 14. – Photo: AFP

Africa is rich. There is no reason for Africans to have to live in war and impoverishment.

We are appealing to all South Africans, even those that are silent, to help us end this war on fellow Africans. We are appealing to the church leaders, progressive forces and to the radical students to join us in this struggle.

We are doing what we can. We are holding meetings – we will hold a meeting in uMlazi in the next hour – and undertaking small acts of solidarity like arranging for South Africans to fetch the children of migrants from their schools and take them to safe places. But it is very difficult to advance a politic of peace in the middle of this kind of violence coming from both the state and other forces.

These are dangerous times. Everyone in the city is scared. The sun is about to go down and we fear that there will be a lot more killing and looting tonight. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

The murder of Mr. Noel Dintshiantshia

Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Congolese Solidarity Campaign are saddened by the sudden death of Mr. Noel Beya Dintshiantshia, who was killed by petrol bomb while he was on duty on Friday night last week. He was working at the Buffalo Bar, owned by Mr. Naidoo, as a bouncer on the corner of Commercial and Gardener Street in the city of Durban.

According to the deceased’s last words before he died, there were some customers who were making noise and disturbing other customers at the liquor outlet. The owner sent him to tell them that they should respect other customers, but they did not listen. They continued to make noise. The owner sent him to take all of them out and make sure that they are not coming back.

The victim of a xenophobic petrol bomb attack burns to death on the street.

The victim of a xenophobic petrol bomb attack burns to death on the street.

According to the deceased, these people told him that he cannot do that to them in their own country and that they will show him. They came back 30 minutes later behind from where he was standing outside. They petrol bombed him. When he tried to run inside the liquor outlet for help they closed the gate for him and he was not assisted. He ended up burning alone just outside the KFC while people watched him burn.

It also said that medical rescuers and police came late on the scene. He was rushed to Addington Hospital and then transferred to Wentworth Hospital in Jacobs where he died on Sunday morning around 7 a.m.

We are very concerned about the protection of migrants in South Africa, especially African migrants. It seems that we are the people who can be killed with impunity in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in South Africa too.

Mr. Dintshiantshia was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on Jan. 15, 1968, in the province of Kassai occidental. He arrived in South Africa in 2005. He died at the age of 47 and left behind a wife and a young daughter.

A case of murder was opened at the police station but the killers are still on the run. According to the victim’s brother, the police are not doing enough to bring the killers to book. The remains of the deceased will be repatriated back home to DRC next week, where he will be laid to rest.

Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Congolese Solidarity Campaign send our condolences to the family of our fallen brother who died in exile because of political instability and economic mismanagement in our country (DRC), which has led many of us to leave our promised land and seek refuge in different countries around the world, and particularly in South Africa.

More than 4,000 marched against xenophobia in Durban on April 16.

More than 4,000 marched against xenophobia in Durban on April 16.

The moment through which our people are living in any part of the world is one of the darkest moments in the history of humankind. Our future is dark, and scattered.

The Congolese Solidarity Campaign is a grassroots social movement which struggles for social justice and equality and to create a free, open and unified DR Congo open to all regardless of culture, ethnicity, beliefs, race, social origin, gender, race and region.

We are on the mission of preserving the human dignity of our people. We are united by destiny and history to encompass the noble ideas of liberty, fraternity, solidarity, justice, peace and work. We are animated by our common will to build, in the heart of Africa, a state of law and a powerful and prosperous nation founded on a real political, economic, social and cultural democracy.

The moment through which our people are living in any part of the world is one of the darkest moments in the history of humankind.

We are proud to stand with Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban.

We call upon the South African Police Services to immediately investigate and arrest those that were responsible for the brutal murder of Dintshiantshia. We call upon the South African government to intervene and act decisively in bringing peace and stability in DR Congo.

We call upon the African Union to do justice in the protection of the sovereignty of the Congolese people. We also call upon ordinary South Africans to reject any violence against any foreign nationals and to work for a free Africa in which everyone’s dignity and humanity is respected.

Work for a free Africa in which everyone’s dignity and humanity is respected.

We are planning a memorial service in Durban for the late comrade before his body is sent back home. The media will be informed in due course.

Abahlali baseMjondolo (Shack Dwellers Movement), the largest social movement of the poor in post-apartheid South Africa, can be reached at abmpress@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/abahlalibasemjondolo. To learn more, visit http://www.abahlali.org. S’bu Zikode is the founding president. The second section, regarding the murder, was written by the Congolese Solidarity Campaign in association with Abahlali baseMjondolo.

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