The EFF’s recent campaign of ‘labour inspections’ at restaurants in Gauteng is a reactionary descent into the xenophobic politics of the right-wing parties like ActionSA and the Patriotic Alliance. These right-wing outfits are very small on a national scale, but their message has been amplified by opportunist elements in the bigger parties such as the DA and the ANC. Now, scandalously, the EFF has joined in the fray.
According to the EFF, the aim of the campaign is to seek a 60 to 40 percent ratio between the employment of migrant workers and South African workers in the hospitality sector. This is a dangerous way of posing the issue, particularly in the context of anti-immigrant sentiment whipped up by right-wing politicians across the board. Instead of standing up to this, the EFF is pandering to this right-wing demagogy in a very public way.
Pandering to the right wing
The very public and theatrical way the EFF had carried out its antics will embolden those who already blame migrants for their suffering in a country where youth unemployment is over 60 percent. In the context of mass impoverishment and desperation, this creates a dangerous situation. Instead of promoting the unity of the workers, it will create more barriers between them.
It also legitimises the stance of reactionary parties such as ActionSA and the Patriotic Alliance on this question. To illustrate this point, following the EFF’s campaign, the Patriotic Alliance upped the ante on their xenophobia by conducting ‘inspections’ of their own at migrant-owned small businesses in Eldorado Park in Johannesburg. Not to be outdone, the Inkatha Freedom Party, a reactionary party espousing Zulu nationalism, announced that it had submitted a Private Members’ bill to parliament calling for strict regulation of migrant labour across the entire economy.
The EFF’s actions take place in a context in which political parties are taking dangerous right-wing positions on migration, with ActionSA and the Patriotic Alliance being among the most crude. Small but vociferous xenophobic organisations, such as the self-proclaimed ‘Umkhonto weSizwe veterans’ [Note: Umkhonto weSizwe was the armed wing of the ANC], who trashed migrant stalls in Durban, and the All Truck Drivers Foundation, engage in xenophobic violence with impunity. These elements are used to divert attention away from the real cause of the crisis of unemployment, namely the capitalist system. It is used by the agents of the ruling class to cut across the rising anger in society. Consciously or unconsciously, the EFF is facilitating this.
Stoking the flames
As the crisis of capitalism deepens, politicians across the spectrum have stoked the flames of xenophobia in South Africa. Unscrupulous politicians, such as Herman Mashaba who split away from the Democratic Alliance to form Action SA; the Patriotic Alliance’s Gayton McKenzie, and the ANC government minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, have all used this tactic to dress their chauvinism in the language of legality and ‘restoring order’.
It was during Mashaba’s term as Johannesburg mayor for the Democratic Alliance, that he openly displayed his xenophobia on a national level. Mashaba, a former chairman of the Free Market Foundation, infamously staged a publicity stunt by making a citizen’s arrest of a street trader pushing a trolley of cow heads in Johannesburg in 2018, claiming he did so for health and safety reasons, but added he is not “going to sit back and allow people like you to bring us Ebola in the name of small business”.
Despite his xenophobia and the fact that he is a capitalist, the EFF saw nothing wrong with having friendly relations with Mashaba during his term as mayor of Johannesburg. After the EFF’s recent campaign, Mashaba could not contain his glee when he stated: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you… and then they copy you. Some politicians in this country!”
But this is not all. The EFF made Vusi Khoza its provincial chairman of Kwazulu-Natal, despite his conviction for participating in anti-migrant attacks while he was a councillor of the ANC in 2009. These are the kind of reactionaries the EFF has associated themselves with!
The cynicism of the ANC government, and specifically of Minister of Home Affairs, Motsoaledi, is particularly appalling. Motsoaledi made it impossible for asylum seekers to apply for asylum or renew their permits for nearly two years because of lockdown restrictions. Only in recent months has the department made online renewals available – but many asylum seekers still struggle to renew their permits.
There is also a link between the increased use of xenophobic language and stereotypes by bourgeois politicians and the organised vigilante groups taking to the streets, threatening and intimidating migrants. Vigilante group ‘Operation Dudula’ took to the streets of Soweto, confiscating street traders’ goods and evicting them from the taxi rank across from Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital. The group then released a letter telling migrants in low-skilled jobs, and working as hawkers and artisans to cease trading.
Operation Dudula is just the latest in a string of such groups. One of Operation Dudula’s leaders, Nhlanhla Lux posted a video on his Instagram page wearing a camouflage uniform and declaring… “We are the people of South Africa. We are here with no spirit of negotiating anything. We are here to take back our country and that’s it. We are going to come and we are going to clean South Africa because this can’t be normalised,” he said. He added that he and those around him were willing to “die for this country” to rid it of “the illegal foreigners who continue to participate in crime”.
The Sisonke People’s Forum was one of the groups behind the 2019 xenophobic attacks in Johannesburg, in which at least 10 people were killed. The forum said it was angered by young people losing their lives to the drugs migrants allegedly sold them, and because migrants were given preference for certain jobs ahead of South Africans.The reactionary All Truck Drivers Foundation (ADTF) has made similar claims. Despite them denying any involvement in violence, links have been made between the ADTF and the more than 200 truck drivers who have been killed in attacks on the freight industry in South Africa.
The hypocrisy of the largest bourgeois party, the Democratic Alliance, was on full display, as it claimed to “speak out” against the EFF’s recent intimidation of restaurant workers. The DA spokesperson for labour, Michael Cardo, labelled it “workplace terrorism”. This is the same party which ran a racist and xenophobic “secure our borders” campaign during the last national elections. Instead of dealing with corruption and the inefficiencies at home affairs to process and issue asylum and refugee permits, politicians have scapegoated impoverished Black migrants, turning them into targets for hostile groups.
Even before the pandemic, organised gangs harassed, attacked, and evicted migrants from their houses in Johannesburg’s Alexandra township and the suburb of Orange Grove. None of these groups has been brought to book, with few perpetrators of xenophobic violence arrested and convicted over the years. In fact, state agencies such as the Johannesburg Metro Police Department have been actively complicit in further marginalising migrants with its Buya Mthetho campaign. Launched ostensibly to “create safe communities for our residents” in the inner city, the campaign mostly victimised migrants. The metro police tweeted a picture of two officers arresting an undocumented person on 25 January. A devil emoji was placed over the migrant’s face.
It is in this context that the EFF is conducting a reckless campaign of inspection stunts in restaurants to ‘expose’ the use of migrant labour and demand the employment of more South African-born workers. Instead of helping to organise the workers into trade unions and demanding better conditions for workers across the board and opposing the anti-immigrant politics with the revolutionary mobilisation of the working class, the party is pouring petrol into the flames by pandering to the right.
Violence is increasingly organised and, in some parts of the country, steadily more institutionalised in party politics. In many wards in Durban local ANC structures now include “business forums”, usually openly armed organisations that, in classic Mafia style, demand access to tenders and private business, often under open threats of violence.
The EFF’s conduct could hardly be more reckless and unprincipled. Intimidatory visits to restaurants to demand quotas on the employment of migrants is the politics of right-wing reactionaries. This has nothing in common with revolutionary politics. It is a means to divide the workers along national lines; something that only benefits the bosses.
Restaurant workers are among the most exploited. They are also among the least unionised. It is now imperative that restaurant workers across South Africa are unionised, without regard for country of origin, to improve their working conditions and, in the great tradition of trade unionism, affirm that an injury to one is an injury to all.
It is necessary for every worker and all trade unionists to take a clear stand against this and condemn this xenophobia. During the 2008 attacks on migrants, it was trade union and working-class activists who put an end to the violence. However, it is not enough to merely march against these reactionary developments. The unions need to organise all migrant workers into fighting unions to improve the conditions of all workers across the board. The answer to the divisive politics of the right should be answered with the unity of the working class!
Disillusionment with the political establishment
There is a deep sense of anger, frustration and disillusionment in general in South African society. This is particularly true of traditional ANC voters. In the last local government election the party went below the 50 percent mark for the first time. If this is repeated in the national election in 2024, the party will lose its majority in parliament. However, this disillusionment with the ANC does not correlate in the rise of any of the major opposition parties. The second biggest party, the Democratic Alliance, also lost ground compared to the last local government election. In fact, despite the deep crisis, the ANC is still twice as big as the DA. And the third largest party, the EFF, only made moderate gains by increasing its vote from 8 percent to 10.3 percent. The votes were spread over a much larger share of small opposition parties.
The biggest feature of the last election is the abstention rate. Just one-third of the voters turned up. Not only are they staying away from polls, but fewer voters are registered now than in 2019. But in the suburbs, where opposition voters tend to live, the drop was small compared to the townships where working-class and poor people live. In other words the lower turnout and registration rate was not a statement by all voters – it was a message from ANC supporters. Instead of switching their votes to the main bourgeois party or to the EFF, millions are simply staying away. Neither the DA on the right nor the EFF on the left are seen as a real alternative. In the last few years, the growth of the EFF has slowed in comparison to the first five years of its existence, when it succeeded in attracting a layer of radicalising workers and youth.
This mass abstention from the electoral process is not ‘political apathy’ as some commentators suggest. It is a sign of disillusionment. It is also a sign that the workers have been blocked on the electoral field and could once again turn to the industrial field. In the next period, we could therefore once again see a sharp rise in strikes and industrial action similar to the period between 2009 and 2013.
The problem is capitalism!
The root causes of this barbaric violence lies in the deep crisis of capitalism. A certain layer of the leadership of the ANC now live lives which are completely different and disconnected to the majority of the people.The xenophobia we see is the direct product of the criminal capitalist policies imposed on society by the government and the capitalists. In a country with immense wealth, many people live in appalling conditions. Unemployment, poverty, homelessness and racism form a crushing weight on the shoulders of most working people.
The gap between rich and poor is higher than it was in the dark days of Apartheid – and it is widening by the day. In South Africa, the richest 10% of the population own more than 85% of household wealth. The richest 0.01% owns more wealth than 32 million people. A tiny minority, which owns and controls the immense wealth of the country, is driving down the living standards even further because of the crisis of capitalism.
Discontent is growing among the majority whose economic prospects are becoming bleaker. The rate of unemployment is now more than 30%. For the majority of people, life has been reduced to a daily battle for survival. Their dreams have been crushed by this exploitative capitalist system, which is daily rolling back the gains which were won through sacrifices in the past.
In this context, some sections of society have not found an outlet for their anger and frustration. These are mainly small shopkeepers, lower middle-class and unemployed people, lumpen elements, and dispossessed and disgruntled youth who have lost all hope in the future. After decades of deepening poverty, unemployment and worsening conditions, driven by desperation and anger, and with no prospect of any improvements, it is easy for these layers to fall under the influence of reactionaries. The poorest layers of South African society are being incited against people who are equally poor, while the rich and powerful who are responsible for the mess are unaffected.
What we are seeing are reactionary outbursts of disgruntled and dissatisfied elements in society who have been discarded and who have temporarily found a way of expressing their rage. In the end, it is only the fight for the overthrow of this monstrous capitalist system which can solve the questions of poverty and misery and the reactionary tendencies they spawn.