Giving a Class perspective to the xenophobic uprisings!
Let's make some few observations concerning the current xenophobic uprisings and acts of crime. Almost always, high levels of poverty, inequality, starvation and unemployment are a cause of social instability. You'll remember government made this acknowledgment when the annual report of ASGISA was tabled in April 2008. Now with an objective existence of what is called lumpen proletariat, you will surely encounter these acts of violence with different forms of false-consciousness.
The term lumpen proletariat is Marxist and refers to that section in society that is unemployed, often residents of informal settlement and engaged in criminal activities. The South African capitalist system and trajectory has produced a significant amount of these (lumpen proletariat), which is often amenable to narrow ethnic, xenophobic, superstitious and reactionary influences. This is the group which the IFP mobilised during the transitional period and led to many killings whilst influenced and funded by a third force.
This observation squarely explains the nature of the lumpen proletariat:
“[The lumpen proletariat] for the most part, do not have their hands directly on the forces of production, so they do not potentially have the sort of leverage against the bourgeoisie that the proletariat has. Industrial workers by withdrawing their labor can potentially force the bourgeoisie against the wall. The lumpen proletariat's main form of leverage, in contrast, lies in their capacity for social disruption”.
Those who are closely monitoring the situation will realise that the acts of xenophobic and ethic violence largely happens amongst the above defined group, and often in communities with high levels of poverty, starvation and unemployment. Now the consciousness imbued amongst this group is that the foreign nationals are responsible for the job losses and shortage of other basic needs such as housing, water, sanitation, electricity, etc, but fundamentally the main culprits in crime. In Soweto for instance, the acts, which are thus far not fatal, are happening in the informal parts of Bramfischer Ville, Leratong, Tshepisong, Slovoville, and not in Diepkloof Extension or Pimville Zone 6 Extension. There however is no third force in this instance, but some possible levels of spontaneity similar to the early 1990s village uprisings against those who were accused of “witch craft”.
The absence of SANCO in communities is also not very helpful, as it could possibly imbue community struggles with a sense of revolutionary consciousness and guide these to be genuine crime fighting units within communities.
What then do we do? Quite clearly this will need a systematic response from all stakeholders of society, which could include increased service delivery, mass education and literacy campaigns and generally bettering of people’s lives. With pockets of ethnic conflicts arising out of the current xenophobic attacks, our stability as a nation under construction could be sacrificed even more if the quality of people’s lives is left unchecked and unchanged. Now, diagnosing the current uprisings as purely xenophobic will be very wrong and pure idealism and could lead to wrong remedies and solutions…… On the 16th of May 2008, the President of the ANC said in his address at the University of Zululand that “It is important that we understand that nation building is not only about people’s attitudes towards one another, though that is important. We must understand that nation building requires that we tackle the material differences between our people. We cannot have a united nation when a significant section of our society remains in poverty, or do not have access to quality education, or still live without basic services like water or housing”.
Whilst the existence of people determines their consciousness, it equally does inform their false-consciousness.