In Durban, using xenophobia to mobilise unemployed people


QINISO MBILI spoke to a leader of the South African Federations of the Unemployed Peoples Union (Safupu) who openly drummed up xenophobic sentiments to mobilise unemployed people in the city.

“Foreigners need to leave. Those who want to remain here (in the country) need to stop being economically active,” Lungani Khwela, president of the South African Federations of the Unemployed Peoples Union (Safapu), told a crowd in King Dinuzulu Park in Durban last week.

“They should leave so that the Mkhizes, Mthembus and Khumalos (popular black South African surnames) can move in to the businesses and flats that these people have crowded,” Khwela said.

While these expressions of xenophobic sentiment are shocking, considering the recent scenes of xenophobic violence in Durban, the rate of unemployment in the city, and indeed the rest of the country, has fostered resentment of foreign nationals.

Khwelaâ€s audience of about 60 people had travelled from nearby townships like Nanda and KwaMashu, to mobilise other unemployed people to later sign up for the unionâ€s membership. Khwelaâ€s comments about foreigners were welcomed by the crowd with cheers and applause.

“We fought for freedom, the foreigners need to get aside and let us enjoy the fruits to this freedom. Our people are tired of poverty,” Khwela said.

His speech later shifted to focus on how Safupu was urging the government to give a R2,500 basic income grant to all unemployed people. This grant, he said, would be a short-term relief program while the government amended some of its policies as proposed by Safupu, some of which would include forcibly removing foreigners from the businesses they operate, and replacing unemployed South Africans in those businesses.

South Africa is said to have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world. And writing here on The Daily Vox, political analyst Ebrahim Fakir says, “While youth unemployment in South Africa is acute, unemployment in general appears to be one of South Africaâ€s most intractable problems.”

While the problem of unemployment drags on, the resentment towards foreigners will continue to fester. 

“Foreigners were not invited by us into the country; it is not our business what happens to them,” Khwela told The Daily Vox. “I know that exiled people sought refuge in these countries but they never opened up stores there.”

All images: By Qiniso Mbili. 


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