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Open borders!

Not far from where I live is a woman who, like many others from her class, have the best of all the worlds possible. She owns a house somewhere here in Yorkshire and one in Cape Town, allowing her to live here for six months during the best of weather conditions in Britain, and to spend the remaining part of the year enjoying sunny South Africa. She represents, in a literal sense, the beneficiary (along with thousands of others) of her class’ conquest of open borders, long before the formation of the European Union and the latest accession of other Eastern European states.

Recent calls in South Africa, during and after the xenophobia outbreaks, for tightening of the borders, made me think about this woman; it made me think about the EU policy of open borders; more particularly, it made me think what the call for fortifying South Africa’s borders means politically for African working class brothers and sisters who are not citizens of South Africa.

The fluidity of capital across borders makes nonsense of the nation-state. National and regional economies are so integrated into the single global economy that all attempts to curb human movement become out-and-out an explicitly class action. Capital is not restricted from moving between countries, neither is ‘skilled’ labour, ie middle- and upper middle class people or the bourgeoisie. Furthermore, the call to strengthen South Africa’s border control is a hypocritical one. It argues that ‘foreigners’ come to benefit from the wealth of South Africa; that these ‘foreigners’ put further strain on the already fragile abilities of government and local authorities to deliver services. Some arguments appear to be more sophisticated and hold that bosses in South Africa take advantage of the situation of ‘foreign workers’ and end up appealing to bosses (!) to stop these practices … [to myself: what humbug! Capitalists will always search for the cheapest labour and if they are hindered to do so within the borders of one country, they simply go after this splendid source of profit extraction, even if it means closing their operations and relocating]. Before I positively state my case for open borders, let me look at some of these concerns raised.

“Foreign nationals come to South Africa to take ‘our wealth‘”. This concern of course does not say working class black people from countries further north of South Africa, but this is actually what it means. ‘Our wealth’? A considered look at the role of the South African economy in the region and across the entire African continent makes plain that its impact on people in Southern Africa especially, but also further afield on the continent, is one of extracting wealth (material as well as human) from those countries and concentrating it in South Africa. In its truest sense, therefore, the wealth of South Africa is created by not only South Africans, but by Africans from countries outside South African borders. The integration of Southern Africa’s economies into that of South Africa renders any argument of ‘our wealth’ baseless. Furthermore, the very manner of this integration changes working people from the region into a ready-made source of reserve labour. South African capitalists draw from this reserve army of labourers when their profiteering appetites desire. The wealth of South Africa is the creative product of ‘ours’ in the truest sense of the word, and this includes working people from the region.

“Foreign nationals put extra pressure on South Africa’s meager services”. In other words, the working class from the region competes with the South African working class for services and is therefore responsible for the downward pressure on wages. The key source of this tendency of wages to move downward is the fact that capital, which is not simply a thing, but a creative, living entity, is highly mobile and simply moves to where labour is cheaper. Without ceremony. No one needs to spell out how this mobility relates to declining services. Instead of taxing big business and corporations in order to fund the delivery of local services, the ANC government acts as the proper instrument of capital by tightening its embrace on its macro-economic strategy, GEAR.

The borders of South Africa are only argued to be closed for working class Africans. The upper middle class enjoy the benefits of capital’s conquest almost as a matter of course. Like so many other countries the world over (Australia with their points system, Britain now following Australia, with the exception that this system will only be applicable to nationals from outside the EU), South African apologists of capital advance their argument on the level of ‘attracting skilled labour’. If ‘skilled labourers’ are deemed deserving of entry by virtue of their usefulness to the economy, it therefore seems to stand to reason that there are those outside this category also deserving of exclusion from entry. And so the political preconditions are created for xenophobia and bigotry and racism to roam large with relative impunity.

The way out is for South Africa to implement an open-border policy. Working class citizens from African countries should be allowed to enter and exit in the same fashion as the upper middle classes and capitalists (from Africa and the entire world, for that matter) are allowed to. There are those, of course, who raise all sorts of alarm bells on this proposition. They envision all sorts of chaotic situations, collapse of the country’s infrastructure and whip up the most terrible of socio-economic disasters, including the plain ridiculous, from load shedding to potholes. The first thing we must be clear about is that the policy of open borders is not a new concept. It already exists for the upper middle class and capitalists in South Africa; in fact, South African capitalism was so thorough in its conquest of Africa’s markets that most ‘ordinary’ South Africans do not need special travelling documents like visas to enter those countries. We simply hop on the airplane and enjoy the conquests of our pioneering homegrown capitalist! The only people not enjoying this open-border policy are working class Africans.

The other piece of counsel is that an open-border policy is impracticable. It cannot work. Well, it works in Europe. It is not true that the reason why it somewhat works in Europe is the level of those countries’ infrastructural development and systems administration. The thing about South Africa and all other capitalist states is that the bourgeoisie create systems of administration and the variation of infrastructure to suit their aims, to assist them primarily in their insatiable pursuit for profits and control over lives of people and material resources. Needs placed above anything else and the call for an open border policy not only makes sense, but can become an instrument of struggle in the hands of oppressed classes.

I am for an open border policy in South Africa and the world.