The Social Movements Indaba -– a co-ordinating national body of social movements, civil society and activist organisations –- is organising with its affiliated organisations and immigrant communities to roll back the groundswell of xenophobia. In the years since its formation in 2002, the SMI has linked organisations of the poor in struggle for basic services, international solidarity and against police repression. At its last national meeting in December in Cape Town, the SMI identified xenophobia as a pervasive problem in communities and undertook to campaign against hatred of foreigners. Now that the crisis of hate crime is no longer foreboding and is terrifyingly HERE, there is no time to stall and wish we were better prepared. We are without hesitation committed to the struggles for social justice, internationalism and solidarity with all repressed people.
While the police have been deployed to try keep a lid on the pressure that has boiled over, this is no solution to the safety and security of all. As a xenophobic force in Johannesburg pre-existing the outbreak of violence, the police cannot be trusted to be more than the brute barrier between perpetrators and their targeted victims. The South African Police Services and Johannesburg Metro Police harass immigrants to solicit bribes as a matter of practice. Calling on the police to ``do their work’’ as President Thabo Mbeki and his [African National Congress] government have done does not, therefore, address the issues of safety and security amongst immigrant communities. The refugee communities do not trust the police as impartial arbiters of the conflict. The police conducted a brutal raid on the Central Methodist Church on the 31st of January 2008 under the pretext of crime prevention. Criminalisation of immigrants is a smokescreen for deportation and bribery that the police has not cleared.
Long-lasting safety and security for all does not include deportation of foreign nationals, whether voluntary or not. Xenophobia’s origins lie within the conditions of poverty in which the majority of South Africans live. Immigrants have been targeted for their ethnic difference and for their very similarity with their persecutors. Seen as competitors for scarce jobs and housing, South Africans have misdirected their anger at conditions of poverty that are unchanging. Their fellow brothers and sisters who are enduring the same cannot be responsible for what the economic and political system has created. While we struggle for a change to the neoliberal capitalist system that has created this reality, rearguard struggles for safety and security of immigrants in the country must continue. The SMI gives thanks for those humanitarian organisations, emergency services and churches that are trying to stem the tide of bloodletting and forced removals. We will organise against the creation of refugee camps and work towards the reintegration of immigrants in our communities. In working to recover our common humanity and restore calm, delegations from the SMI are meeting with community-based organisations in Alexandra and the inner city, and as the programme of action to roll-back the hate unfolds, the SMI will be going further afield to speak to affected communities.
* The Social Movements Indaba includes amongst other organisations: the Anti Privatisation Forum, Jubilee South Africa, Imbawula Trust, Sounds of Edutainment, Umzabalazo we Jubilee, Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, Inner City Resource Centre, Kliptown Concerned Residents, Khanya College, Earthlife Africa (Johannesburg), Palestinian Solidarity Committee, Golden Triangle Crisis Committee, Samancor Retrenched Workers Crisis Committee, African Renaissance Civic Movement, Group of Refugees Without Voice