Conflict mapping manifests that there is a disturbing nexus between the phenomena of xenophobia and apartheid in South Africa; both deeply-grounded in exclusionary practices and evoking cultural and structural violence coinciding with identity, space and territory. This is a sad case in light of post-apartheid South Africa’s supposed culture of inclusiveness. To combat this scourge, there is a need for intensive civic education on xenophobia and its implications for South Africa.
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By Phillip Nyasha Fungurai
The scourge of xenophobia in South Africa evokes the cultural and structural violence that was associated with apartheid. Notwithstanding the that xenophobia can rightfully be deemed neo-racism in post-apartheid South Africa, both xenophobia and apartheid were stirred by exclusionary practices – such as the politics of access and unmet needs – that evoke cultural and structural violence, and coincide with identity, space and territory. Xenophobic attacks in South Africa begun in May 2008 in Alexandria, Johannesburg; where sixty-two foreigners were killed and a thousand displaced. Xenophobic attacks continue to fester as social conflict, often degenerating into physical, cultural and structural violence. Recognizing South Africa’s apartheid history, coupled with its post-apartheid culture of inclusiveness and tolerance enshrined in its 1996 constitution, xenophobia seemed unlikely.
Xenophobia in its fundamental form is a social, psychological, attitudinal, either overt or indirect, hostility and tension towards foreigners manifesting as physical violence, social conflict or a mere latent dislike of foreigners. The Declaration on Racism, Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance against Migrants and Trafficked Persons (2001) conceptualised xenophobia, as the attitudes, prejudices and behaviour that vilify persons based on the perception that they are foreigners.
Drivers of Xenophobia
Xenophobia in South Africa is driven and stirred by an interplay of social and economic factors ranging from disequilibrium in socio-economic resources coupled with basic amenities and lack thereof. The human needs, economic and frustration-aggression theories respectivelyu also best explain the causes of xenophobia and the atmosphere that breeds the phenomenon. The frustration-aggression theory points out that growing frustration from unmet needs, competition over scarce resources like jobs, and disequilibrium in resource distribution can degenerate and amount to aggression. The net effect of the frustration is aggression and thus xenophobia attacks.
The economic theory, on the other hand, traces xenophobia to economic factors like poverty and unemployment. The essence of this theory is that the poor, unemployed and/or economically crippled are more likely to be xenophobic than the employed and the elite. This resonates well with trends of xenophobic attacks in South Africa which has almost always been perpetrated by unemployed youth, and the poverty stricken disgruntled citizenry.
The human needs theory propounded by Burton further explains the emergence of xenophobia in South Africa. This theory attributes xenophobia to the inevitability of violent conflict when human needs are unmet. Violent conflict is an inevitable part of human existence with an ontological basis on human needs. Unmet human needs thus spark a train of events that culminate in all forms societal crisis and collective identity hostility. The net effect of this in a rainbow nation with an entrepreneurially dominating foreign populace is xenophobic attacks.
Xenophobia versus apartheid – the nexus
Both phenomena of xenophobia and apartheid were immensely grounded in the politics of access, frustration –aggression theory, perceived disequilibrium in socio-economic resources, coupled with unmet human needs that evoke hostility and tension. Similar to Apartheid, xenophobia can also be deemed a social ill, premised on the politics of segregation and exclusion. Both phenomena also result in upsurge of criminal activities, cultural violence and structural violence.
A cursory conflict mapping of xenophobia exhibits the fact that it is rooted in the apartheid racism history and legal immigration domestic policies. Reitzes (2009) points out that South Africa’s immigration policy is rooted in its racialised Apartheid past, which has contributed towards conceptions of South Africa’s national identity and the construction of the ‘other’ comprising migrants who are non-South African, indirectly perpetuating racial exclusionary practices and adding fuel to xenophobic sentiments and violence against foreigners. Therefore the genesis of xenophobia was never in 2008 in Alexandria, but was latent, lying idle in the hostile and xenophobic immigration policy of South Africa. The exclusionary immigration policy generated a congenial breeding ground for xenophobic tendencies within the South African citizenry.
Synonymous to apartheid, xenophobia in South Africa has also been associated with a legacy of discriminatory practice where identity coincides with space and territory. A sad case of deja vu, in which the then victim is now the perpetrator of exclusionary practices. Reitzes (2009) contends that although the domestic movement of people across South Africa is no longer legislatively constrained, the movement of people across South Africa’s international boundaries continues to be controlled in ways reminiscent of apartheid policies, informed by similar assumptions.
Immigration policies and legislation in South Africa sign posts to the citizenry the framework within which to handle foreigners and the lens through which to view them. Therefore xenophobia can rightfully be called ‘neo-apartheid’ and ‘neo-racism’ in a free South Africa ironically rich with verbose of inclusiveness, tolerance, reconciliation, and unity.
The way forward for South Africa
- It is paramount for the South African government and civil society organizations to engage in intensive anti-xenophobia and peace education campaigns through media, community dialogues and cyber campaigns. If these campaigns become a national pastime, this will make fruitful strides towards inculcating a culture of peace that overlaps the current culture of violence in South Africa.
- Designing and establishing xenophobia early warning systems. This will assist in the paradigm shift from the current reactionary and remedial approach by the South African government to a more preventative approach. Prevention is better than cure. To achieve this, the government in cohorts with the civil society can establish anti-xenophobia committees in schools, churches, universities and other focal community institutions. Such committees will act as watchdogs and whistleblowers to xenophobic tendencies. This is a robust conflict prevention strategy.
Xenophobia can chiefly be attributed to an interplay of socio-economic drivers. Conflict mapping manifests that there is a disturbing nexus between the phenomena of xenophobia and apartheid in South Africa. Notwithstanding the fact that both phenomena were deeply-grounded in exclusionary practices and the politics of access and unmet needs, both evoke cultural and structural violence coinciding with identity, space and territory. This is a sad case in light of post-apartheid South Africa’s supposed culture of inclusiveness. To combat this scourge, there is a need for intensive civic education on xenophobia and its implications for South Africa.
Phillip Nyasha Fungurai is a passionate young researcher who holds a BSc (Hons) in Peace and Governance. He is co-founder and president of the Movement for Youth in Peace and Conflict transformation (MYPCT), a youth association registered with the Zimbabwe Youth Council. He is also a peace and governance, human rights and democracy patron and specialist who works with civil society organizations, think tanks and research institutes in Zimbabwe.