A colleague, Karabo Makofane and me published an article last year, in Theologia Viatorum, entitled, ”The black African other OIKOS, and inclusivity: Reflections on the response of URCSA to SA’s xenophobic crisis” Here we argued that the vicious violence meted out against migrants from the various African countries, in May 2008, was actually a manifestation of the continuing onslaught on the black poor, i.e. it was the ugly face of unresolved structural racism that still haunts our world. With other anti-racism thinkers, we argue, that migration hence need to be seen in this context.
We concede that migration is driven by many factors and the internal dynamics is always shifting. Titty Rooze (2008:2), working in the Social Protestant Centre, in Antwerpen, makes the point that migration as it manifests itself today, is a challenge of globalisation, a sign of the times. She states,
All over the world more people feel themselves threatened by conflicts, their own governments through violent pressure from political, religious and social groups, through climate change… Also, the slow economic growth as well as problems on the food and energy-market, drive people away. A complex whole of worldwide problems cause increased growth in the number of refugees.These realities have been surfacing especially since the late 90s with the European Monitoring Group on Racism and Xenophobia indicating that the various countries of Europe are challenged by new forms of racism and xenophobia. Lukas Adler (2000:2), however, questions the ability of this think-tank to adequately illuminate and respond to this situation. He argues that it needs to be linked to today’s forms of racism and xenophobia against migrants, with economic policies of the European Union.
In her analysis of African migrancy to South Africa, Genevieve James (2008:61) correctly highlights that although it has become prominent in the globalising world, “migration to the south is still under-researched and hence largely unrecognised.” This is the state of affairs, irrespective of Orobator's (2005:144) statement, within the context of elevating refugees as a key area the church’s mission in Africa. Orobator surmises, “it [migrancy-RWN] has increasingly become a ‘permanent emergency’ and a ‘normal way of life’… especially in Africa where ‘every time one refugee situation comes to an end, another develops”. What are these situations in the Southern African context?
Southern African migrancy cannot be understood apart from the colonial history. It is critical to note that the need for expendable cheap labour, to drive the expropriation and exploitation of the land, from the indigenous, black peoples, was at the root of the colonial system. Albert Nolan (1988:71) explains that the South African system of internal colonialism was different from other deep settler nations, as it was transformed into an ideology of apartheid, because of the unique dynamics in the discovery of gold in 1886. The gold found in this region, was “in thin layers deep underground” and required deep-level mining, by “vast numbers of cheap, really cheap, workers”. Nolan (1988:72) writes:
"Without this need most of the indigenous people might have been eliminated like the Native Americans or pushed into separate colonies outside of the ‘golden areas’. What actually happened was that millions of black people were forced into a kind of ‘slave’ labour to dig the deepest holes and the largest network of tunnels on this planet…"
The system of internal colonialism is at its roots a system of forced labour. The system did not originate from the racism of the Boers or Afrikaner nationalism. It was developed by the white mine-owners and successive white governments for the purpose of profitmaking. This meant that local social, political, economic and cultural systems had to be destroyed, and replaced by hierarchical, racialised identities, in order to produce a land-less, mindless, pool of black labour (Biko 1973). Indeed, the white South Africa’s economy, in particular, has been served well by waves of migrant labour, the “black African other” migrating between countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi, who, alongside landless black South Africans from rural areas, were then relocated haphazardly in shantytowns in and round the urban centres of economic growth (Davenport 1991:1-18). This came at an incredible social cost. Mosala (in Villa-Vicencio & Du Toit 2006:149) writes,
“The expropriation of ancestral land and the detachment of communities from rivers, lakes, mountains and valleys that grounded them in space, time and relationship with material and spiritual environment forces, resulted in the settlement patterns of crowded shack living of poor South Africans”.
It is within this context then, that we need to understand the anti-colonial struggle for liberation (see Chipenda 1995:39). The return of the land, but also, the return to the land, linking human dignity and livelihood, was central. In the post-colonial context, where the confluence of neo-colonialism, with corporate capitalism led to new waves of migration, this challenge was exacerbated.
At a consultation in 1995, reflecting on the public role of church in the post-apartheid South Africa, under the theme, South Africa in Regional and Global context Today, Brigalia Bam (1995:52) highlights, amongst other things, the following demands:
"We face the rebuilding of infrastructures of societies that have been decimated by civil war, and we face major dislocation of people through those wars and through high level of unemployment throughout the whole region.
Refugees from Mozambique and from Lesotho have long been served by the SACC , but we now face a new influx. Since the new government has taken power, thousands of refugees have come from other parts of Africa. They come because of the image of South Africa. They come to cities - Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban-which are already overcrowded by South Africans who are destitute and homeless. There is much tension in this matter and it has to be addressed by relief agencies, the government and the churches as quickly and as humanely as possible. It is a regional issue that cannot be solved simply by higher fences and more patrols on the borders."
Post-colonial governments in the region, however, failed in adequately dealing with this legacy. Mandaza (1999:79) argues that the kind of reconciliation exercises that accompanied the end of white settler colonialism and apartheid “serves largely a political function, facilitating the necessary compromise between the rulers of yesterday and the inheritors of state power, within the context of incomplete decolonization”. He argues that this policy and ideology, in colluding with globalisation, becomes increasingly untenable as the social demands of the mass of people grow bigger and louder, in an economy that remains narrow-based and of a colonial nature” (Mandaza 1999:81). Various scholars point out how, in particular the South African and Zimbabwe governments, in an attempt to gain popular support for their conservative and devastating economic policies started to revisit and proclaim quasi-nationalist rhetoric. In recounting the case study further North, of Cote d’Ivoire, Tadjo (2008:225-239), shows how the construction of the “other”, in defence of the model of a liberal economy turned a country, at one time considered to be West Africa’s richest country per capita, into a country divided and wracked by civil war. She cautions that ethnicity and colonial memories become the ingredients that elite groups mobilise and manipulate to maintain power, at all costs. Gundani (2007:10), states in the context of Zimbabwe, “ironically, the politics of “otherness” and of “purging and purification” that dominated the eighties under the pretext of nation-building, came to the fore again when there was a perceived danger to the ZANU-PF hegemony” (see also Gundani 2003).
The simplistic blaming of “xenophobic” violence on the “unenlightened poor”, therefore, masks this complex array of political machinations and ideologies.
For more posts today on Immigration and Migration, see Christians and the Immigration issue, by Steve Hayes
Bam, BH 1995. The church in South Africa, in Pityana, BN & Villa-Vivencio C (eds), Being church in South- Africa Today, 43-53.Cape Town: Salty Print
Biko, S 1973. Black Consciousness and the quest for a true humanity,in Stubbs, CR (ed.) 2004. I write what I like: Steve Biko. A selection of his Writings, 96-108. Johannesburg: Picador Africa
Davenport, R 1991. Historical background of the apartheid city to 1948,in Swilling, M, Humphries, R & Shubane, K (eds) 1991, 1-18.
Gundani, PH 2003. The land question and its missiological implications for the church in Zimbabwe. Missionalia, 31(3):467-502.
2007. Prophecy, politics and power: Scaffoldng a Catholic historiography in post-colonial Zimbabwe from the pastoral letters of the Zimbabwe Catholics Bishops’ Conference (1980-2007). Inaugural paper presented at UNISA, Pretoria, RSA (August 28).
Hassim, S, Kupe, T, & Worby, E (eds) 2008. Go home or die here: Violence,xenophobia and the reinvention of difference in South Africa. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
Jackson, D & Passarelli, A 2008. Mapping migration: Mapping churches’ responses (Europe study). Nucice: Gemmapress.
James, GL 2008. Due South: The challenges and opportunities of African migrancy to South Africa, in De Gruchy, S, Koopman, N & Strijbos, S (eds), From our side: Emerging perspectives on development and ethics, 61-74. Pretoria: Unisa Press.
Mosala, I 1997. Ownership or non-ownership of land forms the basis of wealth and poverty: A Black theological perspective, in Guma & Milton (eds) 1997, 57-68.
Nolan, A. 1988. God in South Africa: The challenge of the gospel. Cape Town: David Phillip.
Orobator, AE 2005. From crisis to kairos: The mission of the church in the time of HIV/AIDS, refugees and poverty. Nairobi: Pauline Publications Africa.
Rooze, T 2008. Lewe in tijden van globalisering, een uitdaging voor de kerken. Unpublished discussion document for Accra Workgroup of United Protestant Church in Belgium.