Local economies in Africa are under threat, says the writer. Picture: Pexels
Local economies in Africa are under threat, says the writer. Picture: Pexels

We need to rethink Afrika Day before it becomes another empty ritual

By Andile Mngxitama Time of article published Jun 2, 2020

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The celebration of Afrika Day is fast becoming an empty ritual.

Fifty seven years after the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the AU, it’s time to rethink the Pan African ideals that have driven the organs of African states.

The character of imperialism and global capital has significantly changed.

However, the ideas of its victims remain unchanged. There is a palpable mismatch between what our forebears’ correct diagnosis of the problem is and the prescription. Over time, however, the disease has mutated and we haven’t kept up with developments.

The Pan Afrikan call for collapsing the colonial border, appointing a single president, establishing one central bank, and setting up a unitary customs union in respect of the whole continent, is no longer viable.

On the contrary, some of these proposals are now germane to the imperialism of the 21st century. The failure to keep up with the evolving nature of imperialism in our analysis, finds expression in the failure to provide sound responses to the immigration troubles that are allowed to fester and mutate into Afrophobic violence.

Political merchants peddling fake solutions have moved into this analytical and policy vacuum.

The peddlers of fake solutions and opportunists have offered, what at first seems like different proposals but are in fact two sides of the same bloody coin of neo-colonialism and neo-apartheid, to serve the expansionist agenda of South African capital into the continent.

On the one hand we have Julius Malema with his open-the-African-borders, one-president-for-Africa call, and on the other hand we have Herman Mashaba with his open Afrophobic call to shut down the borders. Both proposals do not serve Afrika.

The call suggesting one Afrika and opening up the colonial borders, simulates the ideals of Kwame Nkrumah in form, but actually serves the agenda of Cecil John Rhodes in essence. It must be remembered that Rhodes sought to colonise Afrika from Cape to Cairo.

Three interrelated processes explain this transformation of imperialism and South African-based white monopoly capital (WMC) on the border question.

Firstly, imperialism and WMC drive the wage bill down through brutal competition between local workers and the desperate, often undocumented, immigrants. This creates a labour market regime driven by slave wages and no workers’ rights, which is good for profits, but creates conflict amongst the poor who are in competition amongst themselves for livelihoods.

A related and cynical aspect of this labour regime is to hire African immigrant professionals to keep in check South African black professionals. This practice is acute in the corporate world and the university system. To maintain white power, administrators hire black academics from outside South Africa.

This serves to slow down transformation because an immigrant is not likely to wage the war of transformation.

The second main reason why imperialism and WMC need open borders is the imperative to move goods and penetrate the African market. Everywhere one goes on the Afrikan continent, one is confronted with familiar South African corporations, from telecommunications to even chain stores. Also in places where some South African supermarkets are set up, local mass-produced goods are sold. This destroys the local economies and peasant producers. The open-border approach facilitates this exploitation of people and markets to generate profits.

Needless to say, there can be no equality of trade arms between most African economies and South African WMC.

Thirdly, and most insidiously, it seems that the call to open the borders is more about facilitating the illicit movement of goods than serving the pan Afrikanist agenda. It’s no coincidence that Malema calls for the borders to be open while funded by the self-declared cigarette smuggler, Adriano Mazzotti.

Tobacco smugglers are in desperate need of Zimbabwean tobacco and related products. Opening the borders would be great for business.

The unfortunate downside of these reckless moves is the hardship that befalls township dwellers who live with neighbours who are not documented and are ready to take lower wages than what is acceptable for South Africans.

It looks like politicians are calling for the opening of the borders from behind gated communities. Ironically, Mashaba has positioned himself to turn the strife caused by the open-border policy into political capital. His “close the borders” call appeals to the poor who are harassed by the competition at the bottom.

The rage is consequently directed at the poor migrant who is criminalised instead of white capital which is impoverishing all for its profits. Needless to say, even if one wanted to, it’s not possible to shut down the borders.

So what must be done? Firstly, there is an urgent need to study in detail the ways that imperialism and capital have mutated since half a century ago when the OAU was formed.

Second, there is an urgent need to address the immigration challenge.

Here it’s important to impose and implement a quota system of how many outsiders can be employed in any given sector and business establishment. Third, document all people entering the country for free without asking questions. Fourth, all those employed, irrespective of their immigration status, must be given protection with full workers’ rights. Effective measures must be taken to address the Zimbabwean political and economic crisis. These measures must include diplomatic pressure and even economic sanctions. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa must be told to find a working relationship with the opposition parties and end the political persecution of opponents.

South Africa has a big weapon at its disposal. One press at the electricity button can be a great incentive for a political settlement in Zimbabwe.

But in line with a code of good neighbourliness, South Africa must allocate some of its national resources to the African continent or be settled with an impossible influx of desperate people.

Finally, South Affrica must keep WMC on a leash and minimise its impact and domination on the economies outside the country.

Another Afrika, which is truly liberated from the yoke of imperialism and colonialism, is possible. But for such an Afrika to be real, we need to avoid false solutions. We have to put Afrika first.

Mngxitama is the president of Black First Land First

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