Class Struggle, ‘Xenophobia’ and the Local Elite
The xenophobic violence and looting following King Zwelithini’s statement that foreigners “pack their bags and leave” spread to cities and townships across the country. However, the recent attacks are not an isolated incident; nor is Zwelithini solely responsible for fomenting it. Local elites – particularly those linked to the ruling party – also encourage anti-immigrant attitudes and actions. This article, based on discussions with Abahlali baseFreedom Park activists, looks at how local elites in townships stimulate ‘xenophobia’ to protect their class interests, as well as how progressive working class activists have responded.
Xenophobia and local elites
Freedom Park is among few townships where development is underway; RDP houses are being built etc. However, residents complain about corruption around tenders and contracts. The development agencies have been accused of playing local and foreign workers against each other to secure cheap labour. These agencies, linked to the local ANC elite, felt South African workers wouldn’t accept the low wages they were offering and so approached immigrant workers, often more desperate because of their precarious situation, and offered them jobs below the wages locals were trying to negotiate. This is one way local elites play immigrant and local people against each other, creating fertile ground for the spread of xenophobic sentiments.
Read more: Class Struggle, ‘Xenophobia’ and the Local Elite
Who benefits from this xenophobia: the ruling class or the working class?
South Africa has not been the only place that has witnessed xenophobia, in Europe too xenophobia has been growing. An important question needs to be asked in this context and that is who benefits from this xenophobia: the ruling class or the working class?
Xenophobia and the far right
For many years, far-right and populist parties that are anti-immigrant have been gaining ground across Europe. A case in point is that during the recent elections in Britain, the populist anti-immigrant party, the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP), received 3.2 million votes. Many such parties attempt to gain support, including in working class areas, by claiming that ills, such as high unemployment and the rolling back of welfare, are caused by immigrants.
This rise in far right parties has also been accompanied by growing xenophobic attacks on immigrants from Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Eastern Europe. In Germany, for example, violent attacks on immigrants rose by 22% in 2014.
It is not just the far right
The growth of far-right parties and attacks on immigrants, as horrifying as they are, are only symptoms of much larger problems. The reality is that European states, and the ruling classes that control them, have implemented policies that have led to, and are, xenophobic. They have, therefore, created a xenophobic climate in Europe.
Read more: Who benefits from this xenophobia: the ruling class or the working class?