SOUTH African President Jacob Zuma visited a refugee camp in the port city of Durban on Saturday after a fresh outbreak of anti-foreigner violence.
Several politicians have accused immigrants of taking South Africans’ jobs in a country where the unemployment rate is 24%.
Zuma told those who had fled the violence that it went against South African values and that he would bring it to an end.
He was jeered by some in the crowd who accused him of acting too slowly.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) issued a statement on Friday saying it ‘condemns the sporadic xenophobic attacks that have engulfed Durban and Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal and are spreading to some other parts in the country.’
The NUMSA statement continued: ‘What are the first words of the Freedom Charter? “We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”
‘We condemn the prominent elites – cabinet members, ethnic leaders and even the son of our president – who have been making disparaging comments about migrant workers and their families this year.
‘It is time to repent, apologise and join the movement against xenophobia.
‘These attacks have seen our continent’s brothers and sisters – and their young children – displaced from our working class communities.
‘Their rooms, shacks and houses are being taken over, in a context in which we have a long-standing housing crisis.
‘Many of the Durban attacks have been coming from shack settlements where the migrant workers suffer alongside so many poor people.
‘The extreme conditions in these ghettoes also result in shops being looted by desperate people, particularly by the youth.
‘The working conditions near the shack settlements are getting more exploitative – such as in Isipingo where the catalyst for the xenophobic attacks just before Easter was the hiring of migrant workers when local labour went on strike.
‘Likewise, there are many immigrants who are the victims of our government’s foreign policy: support for the tyrant leaders of Swaziland, Zimbabwe and the DRC and elsewhere.
‘In each case, there are indications of crony capitalist relations which help explain why our government supports dictatorships and the looting of minerals and petroleum.
‘In the Eastern DRC, some who are close to government leaders are milking tens of billions whilst people in that side of the DRC suffer from war lords, some which have been hired by Anglo American Corporation.
‘The result has been an estimated six million deaths.
‘We as South Africa owe these refugees so much – not these barbaric and inhumane attacks.
‘We extend our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of those who have lost their loved ones; and wish a speedy recovery to the thousands consigned in hospital beds in many of our public hospitals, in and around Durban.
‘We urgently insist that the Durban municipality and the SANDF provide tents so that hundreds of the victims of xenophobia do not continue to sleep on open ground in the various camps around Durban.
‘We appeal to our people to be calm and desist from these unwarranted attacks.
‘They reflect the terrible shame of ignorance about the rich struggle history we have with our fellow Africans who fought colonialism and racism.
‘It should be remembered that it was Africa and the rest of the world that gave us solidarity during the struggle against Apartheid and racist White minority rule.
‘Furthermore, we owe our freedom and democracy to the gallant martyrs of our struggle, many of whom are still buried in foreign lands, and many of whom are from the very townships now erupting with a xenophobia that is so incomprehensible within our progressive movement’s history.
‘We call on our people to redirect their anger to the politicians who lied to them about a “good story to tell”, amidst the misery, suffering, and squalid conditions they find themselves in, post-1994 political negotiated settlement.
‘We call on our people to build a United Front against the crisis of unemployment, mass poverty, deepening inequality and rising levels of corruption, which is now eating away the massive gains we have scored as the working class.
‘We call on our people to question the multinational corporations which loot our economy, not the tiny micro-enterprises which might be geographically closer.
‘The corporations are the main reason for our plight, as they have influenced the government to impose neoliberal policies – the same policies which create unemployment, housing shortages, retail trading crises and sub-imperialist foreign policies.
‘The attacks are not going to be successful even in their own limited way of displacing foreign competition.
‘Capitalists will continue to seek cheaper workers and the state will continue to undersupply housing to the masses.
‘Our problems are deeply rooted in the failed and disastrous neoliberal economic policies that continued to be championed by the fading current government led by the African National Congress (ANC).
‘It is now the time for the working class, as a class for itself, to organise in shack settlements and to reclaim all our mass-based organisations, and demand accountable leadership.
‘If there is a continued failure for the working class to heed this call and to reject xenophobia, our country will soon be in the hands of kleptocracy and hyenas.
‘The neo-fascism that we see in our society’s xenophobia thrives in the ultra-nationalism, tribalism and neoliberalism that are part of the ruling class weaponry against our poor and working people.’
The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) also issued a statement on Friday saying it ‘joins the peace loving South Africans in condemning the inhumane attacks on foreign nationals’.
The SAMWU statement continued: ‘The attacks which started in KZN (Kwa-Zulu Natal) have now spread to other provinces.
‘These attacks are a reminder of those which were carried out in 2008 wherein many foreign nationals and South Africans lost their lives and property.
‘We should remind ourselves of how South Africa received its democracy.
‘It was through the help of our neighbouring countries and the international community that the country is where it is today.
‘These countries proudly hosted our comrades while in exile and never attacked them because they were not natives of those countries.
‘South Africa cannot isolate itself from other countries more especially the developing countries as we continue to trade with them. Many South African businesses and business people are operating in those countries but none have been attacked for being South African.
‘Communities should blame their frustrations on foreign nationals, such frustrations should be directed at the class enemy, capitalism and of course the state.
‘We urge our members and communities to root out the inhumane attacks on foreign nationals. Communities should stand together and say not in our name and no to xenophobia.’