South Africa: Marching for justice

Below is an abridged May 26 statement by the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF).

The APF, with a large coalition of organisations, marched on May 24 against xenophobia and hate, through the inner city of Johannesburg to the Gauteng legislature to submit a memorandum to government. The public responded to the call from the Coalition Against Xenophobia in a colourful demonstration for the inclusion of foreigners in our communities.

Over 5000 people marched, despite SMS messages circulated in ANC circles discouraging participation in a march organised by the "ultra left". Well, thanks then to the ultra left for mobilising communities and concerned residents of Johannesburg against the insidious hatred bred by poverty, developing links with immigrant communities and being clear about why we are poor.

The vast majority of the marchers were agreed that the government's consistent failure to deliver adequate basic services to poor communities, combined with macro-economic policies that have benefited corporate capital/the rich, are a large part of what is behind the explosion of xenophobia and hatred among the poor who live in this country.

The memorandum addressed to Premier Mbazima Shilowa as well as the department of housing calls on the "South African government to acknowledge its role in the crisis, and to assume responsibility for providing solutions to the problems that speak to the root causes of the problem". This would include, the memorandum stated, the suspension of "the neo-liberal macro-economic policy approach".

While the government will be hard-headed in its insistence on finding a criminal motivation to the xenophobic attacks, the demands submitted to government are unlikely to be met. What the demonstration did achieve was an affirmation of African working class unity and to break the spell of tension that has been stalking Johannesburg streets for the last two weeks.

The solution to xenophobia is for "the enemy at home" to be targeted by our organisation and our action. These enemies are not foreign immigrants, but the corporate and government elites who commodify our basic resources, retrench workers, casualise employment and profit-gouge on basic necessities most crucial to the poor.

Both xenophobia and service delivery protests will not go away unless those with political and socio-economic power listen to the poor, unless social development involves people and is not conceived as a benefit trickling down from investments. With the upsurge in violence, the ANC government must, with all urgency, acknowledge that the time to start back-pedalling on its failed policies is now!